Highly verbal even when alone

“There was something I wanted to blog about today. I just can’t remember what it was,” I say to the kitchen tap as I’m filling the kettle. “I should have made some preliminary notes last night.”

I play with the cat a bit, until the water starts boiling. “Sorry sweetie, I have to make water now.” As I walk into the kitchen I tell the kettle, “Make water, silly, I meant make tea. Tea tea tea.”

Then as I’m rummaging around for the tea bags, I lift my head and say to my teacup, “Oh! I just remembered. I wanted to write about talking to myself out loud!”

I’ve lost my marbles… © Johnsroad7 – Dreamstime.com

I think everyone is familiar with the trope of the “town crazy”. We had one in the town where I grew up. An old woman swathed in several colourful coats, shawls, skirts, and other pieces of fabric, walking around town with a small grocery buggy and muttering to herself. Sometimes she’d yell things that nobody understood. The children were usually a bit scared of her but the adults said she was harmless, just out of her mind. The only thing everyone agreed on was to leave her alone and don’t engage her in conversation because… well, you never knew. After all, she talked to herself out loud.

As do I.

I also meep to myself, sing phrases to myself, ummm to myself, shhh to myself, berate myself and laugh at myself. I sometimes do this via my cat because it’s more acceptable to talk to a cat and say “Oh, owner was being a bit silly wasn’t she? Yes she was!” than to directly address myself and tell myself I’m being silly. Out loud.

“You’re silly.” Yes self, I know I’m silly. Now shut up.

It’s funny because I don’t think I’m crazy. It’s just easier to vocalise thoughts sometimes, to get them out of my head when it’s getting crowded in there. Or just random sounds. One of my coworkers was the first to point out that I constantly made small noises while concentrating on a task. I’d never noticed. And while I knew I liked the sounds of certain words, I never realised I would sing them to myself over and over if I went to do something associated with that word.

“Cuppa tea cuppa tea cuppa tea tea tea.”
“Ooooh! Books! Books books books books books.”

(Note: I am actually choosing examples here with words that sound fairly similar in Dutch and English. I can’t make myself use an example where the Dutch word is just completely different, because translating it to English simply sounds wrong. I can’t do it).

So now I’ve described three ways of talking to myself. One is just sounds, meeps, ummms, pompoms. One is probably echolalia, repeating words or phrases (even though I’m repeating myself, not repeating someone else or something I heard on TV, so I’m not sure if that counts). And the last one is fully formed sentences that are a logical representation of what is going on in my head. A one-sided conversation, if you will.

It sort of feels like they all serve the same function. A way of soothing myself, of making myself focus, or helping me think and make concepts more concrete. It doesn’t feel very different to just be pomming to myself or to speak in full sentences. Except that with the full sentences, I become gradually aware at that particular moment that I’m talking to myself out loud and that this is the sign of a crazy person and not socially acceptable. But I don’t really give a damn, to be honest.

I’m still struggling with wrapping this post up in a nice and tidy conclusion.

The thing is, it’s all new to me. Not the talking out loud or making sounds. But the awareness of it. The fact that these are all well-known autistic behaviours. I didn’t even include any of them in the list of symptoms I wrote for my therapist. So other than describing what I do and how it feels to me, I’m at a loss to interpret any of it and give it some meaning. At a loss to embed it in the autistic framework that I’m slowly building for myself.

Never mind the social implications.

Because that old lady talking to herself? She’s just like me.

My grandma

I have wanted to write something about my grandma for quite some time now, but I have no idea where to begin.

My gran even took me to Pere Lachaise. None of the other grandchildren had insisted on that. She thought it was a bit odd but she enjoyed the visit.

My grandma died in 2009, at the age of 95. So she’s been around a long time. When I was growing up, we lived about 40 km away. In the Netherlands, that’s not very close (although not extremely far away either). I can still recall every kilometre of that car ride. When I graduated from high school and started at university, I moved closer, but of course that didn’t mean I visited more often. That’s what happens.

I loved my gran a lot, though. When I was 15, she took me to Paris, like she’d done with her other two grandchildren as well. Just the two of us, doing touristy stuff. I had a lot of fun. I also got into a lot of arguments with her. I think that was the first time I realised that my gran and I were very much alike. Infuriatingly alike.

A couple of days back, there was a special guest post on Musingsofanaspie.com written by her daughter. The way she described her mother reminded me how parents nowadays are able to have much more open and affectionate relationships with their children than back in the 40s and 50s. Because my grandmother was never able to have that kind of relationship with her children – my father and my uncle.

Gran was born in 1913, just before the start of World War I. Her father was a dairy farmer in a small village (half the people still living there are my relatives in some way). She told me that when she was around 9 or 10, her father left the local church and decided to raise his children in the anthroposophical way, after the tenets of Rudolf Steiner. I do know that my gran wasn’t at all religious, which seems to fit that story.

oma-pothoedWhen she was older she was allowed to go to secondary school and get a diploma, which was not unheard of but certainly not common for a farmer’s daughter in those days. It enabled her to work at the fairly big flooring manufacturer just outside the village (and yeah, I’m pretty proud to say that that same local factory is now a global enterprise). I’m not entirely sure what she did there, she said she did lab work and after an accident with hydrochloric acid the director allowed her to work in his office as an assistant while she recuperated. She sounded very proud of having worked for this man.

The reason why I sound a bit careful when describing my gran’s stories is because sometimes she felt the need to appear of a higher social standing. For example, she always said her dad was a “gentleman farmer” or “landed” when I know he was nothing of the sort. My parents have discovered some things through genealogical research that don’t quite match up with her stories either. Since I’m not entirely sure which ones are fake and which ones aren’t, I’m simply going to describe things the way she told them to me. I do think most of them are true. She was a marvellous story teller though.

That’s my gran all caught up in a story she’s telling on my 4th birthday. The girl in this video isn’t me, by the way.

opa-oma-louwAnyway, when my grandparents met and got married in 1934, they started their own business. My grandad was a carpenter and upholsterer. It was hard at first, because of the depression, but business increased gradually and they were able to buy a big house with a store underneath after a few years. That’s where my dad was born just after World War II. Because someone had to manage the store while my grandad was out doing assignments, my gran became a businesswoman. She did the books and finances as well. My grandad was doing client acquisition and making social calls and being an all around nice guy with a gift for interior decoration. The business pretty much shifted from upholstery to interior design. They started becoming a household name in the upper classes of the area. I think that’s where my gran’s ideas of having to maintain a certain class came from – after all, you can’t have an ordinary farmer’s daughter advising you on which candlesticks to buy.

From the way my father tells it, the store was everything to her. After the store was handed over to the next generation, she took pride in her cooking and her garden and her quilts. She wasn’t very involved in the lives of her two children and didn’t show them much affection. When she did show interest in someone else, it was always with clients or acquaintances. With her children, she kept her distance. But then again, my grandad was fairly authoritarian and not very touchy feely either, which wasn’t considered abnormal in those days.

After she died, I was expecting to hear people describe my gran as “egocentric” or “tough”. However, hearing her described as “unemotional” and “loveless” on top of that shocked me to the core. My mother, her daughter-in-law, said my gran was incapable of showing love to those closest to her. But what about me then? Well, I was far younger than her first two grandchildren, so more distance meant more love. Apparently. I don’t want to discount the experiences of my mother and father in relating to her, but it’s just so different from how I saw her.

oma

My weird grandma. Opinionated, infuriating, stubborn gran. Emancipated, rigid, fairness-in-everything gran. My grandma who actually respected me for standing up to her. Gran who grilled every man I dated to make sure they were good dating material and wouldn’t let me squander my talent on housework and childbearing. My grandma who spent hours on the phone talking about her life and her interests and hardly ever stopping to ask how things were with me. Gran who yelled at me for not being able to boil an egg and loved explaining to me how to make meatballs after I begged her to show me (she complimented me afterwards by saying mine “were nearly as good as hers”). My gran who had the craziest sense of humour and who loved staying up until 4am with her weird opinionated infuriating granddaughter to drink lots of alcohol and talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

On my 7th birthday. She’s pointing and laughing because we’d built a huge heap of fallen leaves in the front garden and were diving into it. The little girl is me.

I still miss her.

I’ve been told I’m probably the only one.

Rainbow soup

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So I decided to make rainbow soup today.

It’s not actually called rainbow soup. I just like it and it’s got a lot of colours so that’s why.

I don’t really feel like doing an official recipe so I’m just going to show how I made it.

Starting with about two handfuls of green beans.

I hate green beans when they’re stringy or have big beans inside or are gigantically overcooked. Other than that I quite like them.

If you want to make sure they aren’t stringy, there’s a trick to cleaning them. If you sort of use the knife to pull the tip of the bean towards you while cutting, you can get the string to come with as well. I hope the picture sort of shows that.

It’s really hard to take a picture while holding a green bean in one hand and a knife in the other.

I cut the beans into small pieces, probably around 1-1.5cm. I guess that averages out around 0.5in. Does it matter? Not really.

Then there’s the big pot of chicken stock. Two litres. I’m lazy and I always use ready made stock from jars. It’s just so much easier.

I prefer jars to making stock from cubes because this way I can just put it in the pot without thinking about it. I do add plenty of water because I don’t usually like very salty food.

This is called a lombok. It’s a chili pepper used in Indonesian cooking. I’m not actually cooking Indonesian food this time but it’s the most common pepper available in the Netherlands. I think it’s a variation of the Cayenne pepper.

I like lomboks because they’re spicy but not insanely so. Plus they have an awesome red colour.

This one is about the size of my hand.

There’s a couple of ways to clean chili peppers. I prefer cutting them lengthwise and then scraping out the seeds and interior.

The more of the orangey interior (seed ribs) you remove, the milder the taste will be. Today I’m not interested in sniffles so I’m removing most of the insides.

After that I’m cutting them into small strips.

I’m mostly doing it for the colour.

Then it’s on to the tins.

Crispy mais. I don’t know what’s so crispy about it. It’s just maize kernels. Or corn kernels. You know what I mean. There’s a picture.

I always make sure to buy the kind without added sugar. Seriously. Maize is sweet enough already. Silly people.

I drain off the water in the tin before adding the contents to the chicken stock.

It’s starting to look pretty.

Green, yellow, and red.

I had to put in quite a bit of effort to get this picture. The maize kept sinking to the bottom of the pot. And as with the green bean and the knife, it’s a bit hard to take a picture while stirring soup with a really big ladle and making sure the pot stays in place.

The sacrifices I make for this blog.

Another tin!

Diced tomatoes. No idea why this tin is in English, since it’s actually a Dutch brand.

This step in the preparation might be a leftover from when I didn’t eat tomatoes. What I do is I take the diced tomatoes and rinse them about a thousand times till I only have the bits of tomato meat left and no juice.

Fresh tomatoes are not an option (even though I actually like those now) because the skins peel off in a nasty way and peeling them beforehand is a lot of effort.

I might try peeled tomatoes but I’d have to rinse those as well. And they feel icky when you’re cutting them up.

So rinsed diced tomatoes it is. Rinse rinse rinse. Not much left when I’m done rinsing.

Without the juice the soup doesn’t become a red cloudy mess either. We want rainbow soup, not tomato soup.

(Oh, on a side note: at my supermarket they have like half an aisle filled with different types of tomatoes. It is 100% impossible for me to pass it without starting to sing “Let’s call the whole thing off” softly to myself).

Time to clean and dice the chicken breast.

Yeah, I know you can get pre-diced chicken breast. But I’m very particular about icky bits in my chicken. I’ve learned how to eat (and love) other parts of grilled chickens, but breast definitely needs to be skin and tendon free. So usually I prefer buying a whole breast and cleaning it myself. I’m better at it than their machines.

You don’t want to know how often I find bits of bone.

Potatoes next. (Potayto! Potahto! Let’s call the whole thing off!)

I use a specific potato breed called “Eigenheimer” from Friesland. The Dutch have a thing about potatoes. But any fluffy, starchy potato will do.

What I want is for the bits of potato to become soft and crumbly when I eat them. But they shouldn’t be dissolving while still in the soup. I don’t want thick starchy potato soup.

So now we’ve got our pot of chicken stock, filled with green beans, chili pepper bits, maize kernels, diced and rinsed tomatoes, diced chicken breast, and diced potatoes.

Let’s go and bring that mother to a soft boil.

I usually aim for about 30 minutes. The chicken and potatoes need plenty of time to cook.

While the soup is softly bubbling to itself, I’ve got time for my favourite part.

Coriander. Cilantro.

I love it. A lot of people hate it.

That’s ok. Autistic people know everything about “irrational” dislikes of food so nobody here is going to force anyone to eat something they don’t like.

I’m just going to make you look at it.

Pretty green leaves. So pretty.

And now I’m going to take my big-ass knife and destroy the pretty green leaves.

Chop chop chop!

Well, I’m not that fast. This is a really sharp knife and I still can’t feel the tip of my left ring finger from where I cut into it with this same knife in January. So… proceed carefully. But thoroughly.

I need very finely chopped coriander.

Because I’m going to make meatballs! And my experience with not-so-finely chopped coriander is that it’ll end up everywhere (plate. frying pan. hands) except inside the meatballs.

Lean ground beef. Seasoned with some fresh black and white pepper and a pinch or two of salt (I use literal pinches. Like what I can pinch between my thumb and first two fingers). Again, I’m not that fond of salt but you can add more if you want.

Next, I add the coriander, a small egg, and some bread crumbs.

The egg and bread crumbs are purely optional, I only add it because the meatballs turn nice and brown when frying with a bit of egg in the mix, and it makes it a bit easier to roll the balls and not have them fall apart in your hands or while frying.

But it does make everything a lot ickier to touch. So I can understand if you skip this part.

Knead the meat until it starts feeling like bread dough. If it’s still really sticky and slippery, add some extra breadcrumbs. You literally want a bread dough feel. That’s the easiest for rolling the meatballs.

(This feeling is not applicable when not using egg and breadcrumbs. Then you’re on your own. I’m so mean).

Take a bit of meat about the size of your thumb and roll it between your palms in a circular motion until you get a ball.

I always try to minimise amount of washing up, so I usually put the meatballs directly into the frying pan. Not heated up yet. Just a little bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking to the pan and a small pat of butter (about thumb size) for the nice frying action later on.

Repeat lots of times until you run out of meat.

Then turn on the heat underneath the frying pan and fry the meatballs until they turn brown, on a high to medium heat. Depends on how much it’s splattering. I don’t like splatter, it always ends up on my hands and then I have burns and that hurts.

Turn off the heat under both pans (yes, the soup was still softly boiling, remember?) and add the meatballs to the soup. Again, try to avoid splatter. Boiling soup is hot.

What do you mean, accident prone? I only have cooking mishaps about once a month or so.

And it’s so worth it.

Look. RAINBOW SOUP!!!

Soundcaged

Waiting room at the mental health clinic. Walk in. Sit down.

© Arpad Nagy-Bagoly – Fotolia.com

The clock. Every second. Tock. The clock. The clock.
The window is open.
A car is getting closer. VrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAuuuuuughhhhhhhhhmmmm.
Music. Somewhere. Radio maybe? Too faint to hear which song.
Receptionist typing.
Someone LAUGHS. Outside? Softly fading away.
The clock. The clock.
Pouring coffee in a plastic cup.
Someone COUGHS.
The clock. The clock.
Music. Is it getting louder? Still too faint to hear which song.
The window is open.
Road works. Banging bricks together. Clink. Clink clink.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
The clock.
Receptionist typing.
Air conditioning vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Whrrrhrrrrrh.
A car is getting closer. VrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAuuuuuughhhhhhhhhmmmm.
The clock.
PHONE RINGS. Jump up.
Only once. Settle down.
Receptionist. Talking.
Music. Which song which song?
Road works. Bricks. Clink clink.
The clock. The clock. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Someone SLAMS a door somewhere.
Receptionist typing.
Footsteps.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
Sliding doors in the hallway. Whshshshhhhh.
Sliding open.
Sliding shut.
Sliding open. Sliding shut.
Receptionist typing.
Sliding open. Stuck? No rhythm.
Footsteps.
Someone COUGHS.
Someone opening a file cabinet down the hall.
Footsteps. HIGH HEELS.
The clock. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
“MR. JONES? HI HOW ARE YOU?” Jump up.
Not for me. Settle down.
Receptionist typing.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
Music definitely louder now. Can almost hear the song.
Footsteps. High heels. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Sliding doors. Sliding open. Whshshshhhhh.
Sliding shut.
The clock. The clock. The clock. The clock. THE CLOCK. THE CLOCK.

This description is based on the actual sounds I heard while waiting for one of my diagnostic appointments, last Thursday. This wasn’t a sensory overload, just the things I heard. The fluorescent lighting didn’t breach my threshold that day so I haven’t included them in the sound list. I also haven’t included the receptionist’s phone conversation because of possible privacy issues and the conversation the receptionist had with one of the therapists about one of their colleagues possibly having a burnout and not returning to work because by that time I was concentrating on my stim toy and besides it was really none of my business even though I could hear every word.

What is my face doing?

That dreaded moment has arrived again. Time to renew my passport. Of course my passport expired a couple of weeks ago already (yay executive function!) so I really need to get it done SOON. In the Netherlands you are required to have a valid ID document with you at all times, and that means a passport or an official ID card. Driving licenses aren’t always valid ID, and besides, I don’t have a driving license. So passport it is.

And that means getting my picture taken.

That’s what I hate about renewing my passport. The rest is fairly standard, scripted stuff, nothing much that might throw me off. But photos? Argh.

Because I have no idea what my face is doing.

With all the rules about “no smiling, no visible teeth, face has to be completely visible, neutral expression”, having my picture taken becomes a task of gigantic proportions. Especially the neutral expression bit. In my current passport picture I look like a particularly depressed heroin junkie. And that took about 25 minutes of non-stop instructions by the photographer. “Tilt your head a little bit to the left. No, LEFT, not right. Raise your chin. Don’t smile. Open your eyes wider. Stop tilting your head to the right. You’re smiling again. Don’t frown.” And so on and so on. It’s really stressful because I have no idea how I look. Am I smiling? Is this ok? WHAT IS MY FACE DOING?

I used to practice at home for hours, trying to see in the mirror what the “right” position is to put my face in, and trying to remember which muscles I’m tensing and which I’m relaxing and what facial configuration does that result in and can I reproduce it? But usually as soon as I get to the photographer, I forget everything I’ve practiced and simply adopt my standard “deer in headlights” look. Or inappropriate smiling.

But that was before I knew about autism and maybe it’s not just me who gets confused by all the facial expression stuff. So this time I was determined to do it differently.

I took a mirror with me.

At the photographer’s, I tried to explain that I have trouble knowing what expression I have on my face and would it be OK if I kept the mirror in my hand so I could check? He just looked at me and asked me why on earth did I need to do that for? OK, fail. He then started explaining all about the requirements which I KNOW BY HEART so really that’s not the problem here. Fail again. Just take the damn picture already.

And then I went to a second photographer.

Yes, it’s an expensive solution. But I figured, if I just get as many passport photos taken as possible, at least one should fit the requirements. I can’t deal with the stress of not knowing whether my photo will be accepted or not. And if it doesn’t get accepted, I’ll have to do the entire thing ALL OVER AGAIN. So I’d rather have some extra expenses than all that added stress. I’m learning to accommodate myself. Which rocks, by the way.

When I explained to the second photographer, he turned the computer screen so I could watch and see each picture he took and adjust my face in whatever way I felt comfortable doing. And he helped me get my errant left incisor under control as well (it has a tendency to slip over my lower lip). And it took about 15 tries but I didn’t feel as self-conscious as at the first photographer’s.

Maybe I should go to a third photographer as well, but I’m sort of out of spoons and I think the second set is probably going to fit the requirements. Although I look cuter in the first set, I think. Oh well. I’ll take both of them with me when I go to the passport office.

Got milk

So I was reading this really funny and insightful post on Notesoncrazy.com about trying to get milk from the hardware store. Where milk was supposed to be maternal care and nurturing and how you shouldn’t expect your mother to give you milk when she’s not a grocery store. Or something like that. It was insightful. I’m doing a really bad job at explaining this.

© Nicholas Watts - Fotolia.com

© Nicholas Watts – Fotolia.com

Anyway. I started to write a comment, thinking of making a joke about how I never liked milk anyway and maybe that would explain why I never go looking for milk. Or maybe why I don’t have any maternal feelings. I’ve always said I don’t have maternal feelings. I like taking care of people though. But no maternal feelings.

And then I suddenly got hit by lightning.

Well no, not literally. Just this bright flash of really painful light *inside my brain*. Thoughts connecting. Sparks flying. Maybe some short circuiting going on. It felt painful. It still does while I’m typing this, but for a different reason.

You see, other women always told me that at a certain age, I’d get over my disinterest in babies and suddenly I’d feel those maternal urges welling up. (Or like the men said, my ovaries would start rattling). And then I would be able to think of nothing else and end up having children and love them to bits. Happens to all of us, apparently. And I would be deliriously happy even though it would be the complete opposite of how I felt about babies now.

I turned 30 and those feelings didn’t happen. I turned 33 and thought I wanted to have babies with someone, but it seemed more like a feeling of sexuality and horniness, not maternal anything. And the guy turned out to be a jerk so that was a narrow escape. And then I turned 36 and I sort of felt like maybe I do want children? Because it’s kind of sad that maybe I will no longer be able to in a few years time. But not an urge or anything. I held my little nephew and even though he was the cutest baby I’d ever seen, it didn’t awaken any feelings in me. So I was right, I simply don’t have that maternal instinct. I don’t think puppies are all that cute either. Kitten are extremely cute, but just as cute to look at as adult cats. See? No maternal urges.

I even said of myself I must have faulty brain wiring for not going gooey over babies. Because that’s supposed to be biologically hardwired. Big eyes and big mouth = need to nurture. So I must be faulty.

I made jokes about having a faulty brain.

© MAK - Fotolia.com

© MAK – Fotolia.com

All that based on what other people were telling me I was supposed to be feeling.

And I never considered that maybe I feel things differently from others. Even when I started figuring out that maybe I’m autistic, I still didn’t think that this might mean I simply feel things differently from others. That it doesn’t mean I don’t have emotions. But that how others describe those emotions simply isn’t related to how I feel them.

Until I started making a joke about how I don’t like milk.

The thing is. I think I do have maternal feelings. They just feel different from what I’ve always been told they should feel like.

I want to keep a child safe inside me. I want to know what it feels like to be pregnant and grow and learn new things about my body. I want to feel a child’s first kick. I want to feel the pain of contractions.

I want to keep a child warm and safe and sheltered during those first confusing days and weeks in the big world outside, all the bright lights and loud sharp noises unfiltered and all coming at them at once. I know what that feels like. I want to help them learn how to cope with that.

© annems - Fotolia.com

© annems – Fotolia.com

I want to feed a child and learn what is yummy and what is yucky all over again. I want to see their personality develop in their likes and dislikes. I want to see if they like soft blankets and dancing in puddles as much as me. Or maybe they will like something else and I will discover that joy through them.

I want to support a child and teach them that it’s ok to be curious and enthousiastic and passionate. I will help them understand things without shaming them for not knowing things right away. We all have to learn new things. I want to learn new things as well through teaching and supporting a child in their journey of discovery. I want them to teach me as well.

I want to care and give love. Even if that love isn’t expressed the way some people say love ought to be expressed. I know my parents love me, even though they sometimes expressed it in odd ways. I’m sure a child will know I love them too. Just as much as I love kittens.

I have no idea what to call this feeling.

But I know how to describe the feeling that I’ve always believed myself to be cold and uncaring and not maternal, because I trusted that others knew more about emotions than me.

That feeling is sort of anger and grief mixed up. I think.

And too many tears to count.

Ch-ch-changes

A few years ago, when pizza delivery places here started preslicing pizzas more often, I was really annoyed because I wanted to determine the size of my own slices.

When my pizza arrived just now, it took me about 30 seconds of pulling on the edges to realise it wasn’t presliced. And then another 15 seconds or so to think of a solution (knife!). And then I felt so annoyed with the pizza delivery place for not preslicing my pizza.

Until I remembered that this was how I used to like it.

I’m pretty bad at handling small changes like that. I hadn’t even realised until now. It’s not that I get an emotional meltdown or get stuck and have no way out, but the annoyance is definitely there and it does take me somewhat longer to adapt.

And all because of pizza.