June Tiger Haul

Only did the teeniest tiniest shop in Tiger today. Some of my favourite foods, some items the kids requested and some stuff that should make travelling easier. Which I will describe below:
[Clockwise from top left: basketball that needs inflating, with pump included. Two bags of pretzels. One bag of French Nougat. Small tin of China balm (Tiger balm copy). Pack of mini pencils. Mini pencil case. Two packs of Dutch waffles. Two travels sets containing a children’s toothbrush with cover and a foldable, silicone, tooth mug. ]

I’m getting a Divorce….from my Twitter

Nearly two years ago, I left Facebook and dived into the arms of Twitter. I created @AutisticZebra ,thinking it would just be a platform from which to share this blog. But somehow it grew to much more than that and bit by bit it took over my life. I attempted to leave, but somehow got drawn back into its embrace. I thought maybe the problem was following too many people. So, I unfollowed more than 1000 overnight. But still, I was dissatisfied.  

And each day, my relationship with Twitter got worse. Like a domestic violence victim, I would emerge from its glow feeling beaten up. Every day it got worse. And yet, the friendship and companionship that I lack elsewhere kept drawing me back. Even though the news shared was nearly always bad. Bad news assailed me every single day, with the occasional puppy thrown in to cover up the stench. 

And then came the last straw, the Grenfel Fire. I have a fear of dying in a fire, a fear that borders on a phobia. And naturally, folks like to talk about and share about the fire. And I could mute all words to do with it. But it’s not just the fire. It’s so much more. It’s the constant bad news, the ableism, the bigotry. It’s not that the folks I follow are those things. But they do like to write about them, call them out, highlight them. And while this is commendable, it’s just too much for me. I’m exhausted. 

So, a few weeks ago, I set up a new, private, Twitter account. I opened it up to my autistic followers, as a trial run to see how it would work. And as it worked as planned, I’m now opening it up to anyone to send a request to. Obviously I retain the right to reject applications! 

What I do there is, I follow everyone back, but then I mute them. So, on my Timeline I only see my own tweets, plus any replies. The ultimate echo chamber. Or, as I like to think of it, my bubble. I post mainly pictures of flowers and fruit from my garden, cute animals, glorious sunsets and storms. I try to stick to only positivity and light. Yes, my new account is like my secret lover and I’m in love with it. And finally ready to leave behind my original  account, and fully embrace my new one. 

I’m not deleting my old account though. We are still linked through this blog, which is like our child and in a custody battle. My old account has too many followers to simply abandon. So, it will still automatically tweet when I have a new blog post here. And who knows, I may one day go back to it. We may be reconciled. 

So, my new account is @SecretZebraClub and if you want to join me in my bubble and see mostly positive stuff from me, do send me a follow request. 

[a photo of a yellow rose, which is the avatar of my @SecretZebraClub account]

Embracing Our Cousins

I will start this post off by admitting that, apart from “atypical depression” (which I now suspect was undiagnosed autistic shutdown), I have never been diagnosed with a Mental Illness. So, I apologise in advance if I make any assumptions or get anything wrong on other mental illnesses. And I would really appreciate feedback from those of you who do. Right, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me start. 

I first encountered the idea that mental illnesses may actually be a form of natural variation than any sort of ‘illness’ to be stamped out, when I read this post on depression in the context of eating disorders. The idea intrigued me, and I found myself nodding along. It’s such a well written and compelling post. 

I then read Crazy Like Us which showed me how the Western (medical) modal of mental illness got foisted onto different cultures, which previously had their own systems and modals to explain mental illnesses. 

I thought back to the summers I spent in Sinop, a city on the Turkish Black Sea Coast. I’ve no idea if Sinop is unique in any way, of if the same attitudes prevail in the rest of Turkey. There, people with mental illnesses were accepted and accommodated in a way I hadn’t seen before. There was a mentally ill man nicknamed ‘Tarzan’ who wore nothing but a loincloth. He carried a staff and was accompanied by a pack of fierce dogs. He owned prime development land in the city centre, which contained the ruins of his house and a very overgrown garden. He spent hardly any time in it. Instead, he slept outside, in the public park. He never got moved on. The local restaurants all fed him. Local women would wash his loincloths for him. He used to collect old newspapers and magazines and donate them to local schools. He was no angel, however. I once saw him set his dogs on a taxi driver who threw a cigarette butt on the ground. People just put that down to his fierce love of nature. The rumour was that he ‘went crazy’ after being rejected by a lady who broke his heart. There is a strong tradition of ‘lovelorn’ people in Turkey and it’s often given as a reason for mental illnesses. 

The other main ‘character’ I remember was Deli Ali or ‘Crazy Ali’. He was also referred to as The Captain. He lived in a self-built shack on the edge of a cliff, and he built steps down to the beach below. He had an amazing garden hanging precariously off the cliff. I don’t know too much more about him because he kept to himself. But people passing by would often drop baskets of vegetables or eggs over his wicker fence. 

Those were the two most prominent ‘characters’ in Sinop. But you would often pass people talking loudly to themselves (long before mobile phones and wireless earphones) or gesticulating to people who weren’t actually there. I would see ‘visibly’ mentally ill people much more often than I ever did in Ireland. And it was seen as no big deal. Something that was created by God (Allah) to add variety to the Earth. 

Years later, as I was starting my journey into discovering my autistic self, I was introduced to the Neurodiversity Paradigm in this post by Nick Walker. Although his focus is on autistic people, the mention of ‘bipolar’ in it caught my eye. Again, here was someone who believed that mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar ‘disorder’ and schizophrenia were part of human (neuro)diversity and not medical disorders. And it seemed a lot of mental illness advocates agree. Here is an excellent post on the matter. 

Neurodivergent people, those who belong to neurominorities such as dyslexics, people with ADHD, and those with mental illness are often referred to as ‘cousins’ to autistic people. And I, for one, embrace these family members with open arms. (Only if they like being embraced, of course!) 
[image: a very stylised graphic of a brain and brain stem, in black ink]

Faking It. 

I just realised that I still fake an awful lot of things. 

I fake being female. 

I fake being het. 

I fake being cis.

I fake being in love.

I fake being neurotypical. 

I fake not having faceblindness.

I fake eye contact. 

I fake being pain free. 

I fake being abled. 

I fake having energy. 

I fake eating meals. 

I fake being born in Ireland. 

I fake liking my in-laws. 

I fake liking people in general. 

I fake knowing what the hell I’m doing. 

That’s a lot of faking. Maybe I should stop? 

Anxiety Cannot Understand Logic

Credit for the title of the Blog post goes to Gwyneth Olwyn, who wrote this excellent piece on anxiety, though in that case it was  more in the context of eating disorders, though applicable in a broader sense as well. I want to write about anxiety more generally, and about how it effects me. 

Last night, I heard about a dog attack in a place nearby, in which a lady in her 60s was killed. At the time, I only had the barest of details and wrongly thought it had happened on a public road, where we sometimes walk our dog. This morning, I read further details that made me realise the situation was a bit different to how it had played out in my imagination. And yet, I’m still anxious. Because, even though, logically, I know such attacks are rare, and that what happened seems to have been a tragic accident, my emotional brain overrides my logical one. I am transported back to my childhood fear of dogs and caught in a loop of panic. 

The same loop gets sparked off over seemingly tiny things. A meeting with a teacher, a phonecall to a business, a few guests coming over for a visit. My mind constantly panicking and jumping to conclusions and doomsday scenarios. 

And no matter how much therapy I do, how much CBT, it’s not effective. Because CBT asks that we examine thoughts. And yes, the conclusions and scenarios can be examined and shown to be false. But a lot of the time, there are no clear thoughts. Just an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. And no logical thought can make a dent in it. 

And so, what can I do? Rather than try and insert logic into it, I’ve found a technique that I suppose might have it’s roots in Mindfulness. I try and engage other senses and emotions. I put a few drops of a favourite scent, such a lime oil, on a tissue and inhale deeply. I immerse myself in a rubbish romcom or tv show. I look at pretty pictures of flowers or cats. I go for a walk in the rain. 

In order to help myself, and my autistic friends, access some cheerful images and content, I have created a secondary Twitter account. You can find it at @SecretZebraClub but it’s a locked account and only for autistic people. That might not seem very fair to non-autistics but I’m trying to create a space that’s free of conflict, and that celebrates autistic people, so that’s the way it has to be for now. 

Some say all autistic people are anxious. Whether that’s a feature of our neurotype, or due to the pressures and bullying we face from living in a neurotypical world, we need to find ways to calm our anxious brain. And accept that it’s one area we can’t always ‘logic’ our way out of! 

Coming out…in quadruplicate. Or…it’s complicated. 

So, I’m my previous post, I “came out” as non-binary (and genderfluid), bisexual and aromantic. But, there is one more part of the equation that I feel I need to talk about. I am also trans. Sometimes. 

This is where it gets complicated. And a lot of the complication stems from different definitions people have of what exactly is meant by “trans”. 

I used to think I was cisgender. I thought that transgender meant I *had* to have gender dysphoria. And seeing as I don’t, and as I have no desire to transition physically, then I could not be transgender. Right? Wrong. 

I reached out to binary transgender activists. Mostly trans women. And every single one of them told me that I was wrong. They explained that I didn’t have to have gender dysphoria. That I simply had to have a gender different to the one assigned to me by doctors/parents/society when I was born. And that, since nobody is assigned ‘non-binary’ at birth, I could be trans if I felt it fit. But, equally, I did not *have* to identify as trans. That it was up to me, and that they certainly were not about to exclude me from identifying as trans. 

And as I delved more into it, I found a lot of others like me. Non-binary folk who ID as trans. But, equally, a lot of enbies ID as cis. And there are those who ID as neither. And all these opinions are equally valid, as they are up to the individual choice of those involved. 

It gets a bit more complicated for me, personally though. Being genderfluid means that sometimes my gender is female. And as that’s the gender I was assigned at birth…that makes me cis during those times, I guess? Not so much an issue these days as my ‘female episodes’, for want of a better term, rarely happen now. But, yeah, complicated. 

Another factor in why I don’t proclaim my being trans more loudly is… I don’t want to take attention away from transgender people who face oppression and danger due to their being trans. I want to make sure they are centred in any discussions, not me. I don’t believe it’s my place to speak on trans issues. 

And so, yeah I’m trans. But, it’s complicated. As most things about gender are, I’m finding out. 

Coming out…in triplicate. 

I’m about to write my most intimate post yet, and quite frankly, I’m terrified. But it’s Pride Month and as good a time as any to just bite the bullet and get it all out. 

I’ve spent the last few years examining who I am. Trying to make sense of myself. I have been thinking deeply about my gender, my sexual orientation and my romantic orientation. It’s been an eye-opening journey to say the least. And what I’ve realised is: my gender is non-binary, I am bisexual, and aromantic. Each of these subjects deserves a blog post of their own, but I’m not ready to write them yet. So, I’ll dedicate a paragraph, or two, to each and hope that will suffice. 

My gender is non-binary: 

Non-binary gender is often shortened to NB, or enbie. It’s kind of an umbrella term as there is a lot of heterogeneity amongst people who identify as such. Non-binary itself merely means “neither of the two binary genders”. The binary genders being male and female. 

More specifically, I am genderfluid. This means that my gender shifts from time to time. Again, this can be different for different gender fluid people. How it manifests for me is, most of the time I’m NB. Sometimes (more rarely now) I’m female. I’ve realised that the times I’ve identified as female have been mostly when I’ve either been going through puberty, or when pregnant or breastfeeding. So, in times when I’ve had large amounts of hormones in my system, I guess. Again, that’s just how it is for me, I cannot speak for any other genderfluid people. 

The rest of the time, I’m NB. This has been something I have known for as long as I remember but had no words for till recently. As a child I thought of my gender as ‘fairy/elf’. But not of the Disney variety. More like some ancient creature that was neither male nor female. I’ve never felt like I was a tomboy – I don’t like playing football or climbing trees etc. But I’ve never felt like a girl either. But I thought I ‘must be’ a girl since everyone called me one. So, here I am, realising that my earliest childhood identity was closer to who I am. A nebulous being who is neither male nor female! 

I am bisexual:

My first kiss was when I was 11. I really really fancied this other girl, and we agreed to kiss, to ‘practice’ for kissing boys. I then went on to kiss many, many boys. And yet, I would still melt when I saw certain girls, but I tried to put it out of my mind. Years later I met up with that girl again. We were both wild teenagers and somehow ended up in a threesome with some bloke we picked up. I kept thinking the guy was getting in the way! I somehow convinced myself it was a ‘once-off’ and put it out of my mind. 

One time, I got ‘warned’ by my boyfriend’s female friend that a mutual friend was ‘a bit AC/DC’. I had no idea what that meant. When it was explained to me, I suddenly realised that the ‘intense’ conversation that mutual had with me a while ago, while sitting on her bed during a house party, was actually her coming onto me. I was very confused but also somehow really happy. Except for the part where she was married and I had a boyfriend. That was when I thought ‘hmmm, maybe I’m bisexual’. But again, I put it out of my mind. 

But, it’s not really something I can put out of my mind. And I’m done with denying parts of myself. So, I’m embracing being bisexual even if I never have a sexual encounter with a non-male ever again. 

I know if I were ever single again, I’d consider a relationship with another woman. Or a person of a non-binary gender. Or at least, have lots of sex if not a relationship! I do sometimes debate whether I’m pansexual rather than bisexual. It can be a subtle enough difference and there are differing definitions of both. Right now, bisexual seems a better fit so I’ll stick to that. 

I’m Aromantic:

This one is my most recent realisation. And the one most difficult to wrap my head around. I hadn’t even heard of the term until recently. It suddenly dawned on me, during a Twitter chat about love, that I’ve never actually been in love. Yes, I’ve often said the words ‘I love you’. If anything, I’ve been accused of saying them too often. Of being flippant and insincere when saying them. And I now realise that the folks who said that were right. I said those words because I thought that they were expected of me. But I never truly felt them. So far, all my relationships, even now that I’m married, have been more akin to ‘friends with benefits’. I cannot seem to form romantic relationships with anyone. And the term for not forming romantic relationships is aromantic. 

This is not to be confused with being asexual. I’m definitely not that. In fact, I consider myself ‘hypersexual’ in that I have an extremely high libido. So, I can form friendships, I can have lots of sex, but I cannot seem to fall in love, no matter how hard I try. 

Lots of aromantics are fine with who they are. I’m not quite there yet. I really really want to fall in love some day. I used to think it would happen eventually. That I just needed more time. And who knows, maybe it will. Maybe I’ll turn out to be demiromantic or alloromantic after all.  But, right now, I’m trying to learn to accept myself just the way I am. 
So, there you go. Finally, at the age of forty, I’ve realised I’m triply queer, and I guess I’m ok with it!