Sensory overload – trains, pains and exploding brains

Hell is a crowd of exceptionally loud drunk men clutching beer bottles on the 5pm train. They wear a uniform of (almost) matching shorts, polo shirts and cardigans draped round their shoulders; boat shoes without socks. They all talk at once, competing for attention; maniac laughter.

I picture grabbing a samurai sword like Mishone in The Walking Dead and silencing them. Ah intrusive thoughts – a gift from my OCD.

Their shouting vibrates in my chest and makes it hard to breath. I look into the faces of the people sitting around me. Impassive. If they are experiencing what I am, how are they hiding it so well? One comment ‘knee deep in rape’ makes me stand up in disgust, ready to challenge them. But I know my hearing can be unreliable and my interpretation too literal. So I sit down and breathe through it.

Their communal stench of beer, aftershave and cigarettes makes me want to scream. It floods my nose until I can taste it.

Sensory overload – fireworks flash in my head and my chest filling me with panic

This is the first train I’ve travelled on in maybe 2 years. It shouldn’t be this torturous, this intimidating.

It took all my willpower not to have a meltdown. A meltdown that would have burst open my verbal floodgates and seen me lecturing the lot of them on Autism and respect for other peoples differences. No doubt I’d have been labelled a nutter. It’s a fair label.

My husband and I joke that I don’t like humans. But it’s not really a joke.

I like children – playing eye spy on the train this morning with a melting down toddler whose mum needed a break was a highlight in my day. I understand children and they understand me.

I also like animals.

I like lovers of nature.

People who care about the planet.

I like people who understand Autism, who embrace our differences without judgement.

Passionate people who stand up for what they believe in – I like them.

The booming clamour of voices over voices starts to ease as we pull into a station and the badly dressed loud mouths disembark taking their stinky stench with them. I feel the oppression lift and my anger subside.

The irony is, I used to be one of those loud, obnoxious drunks on a train. Before my Autism diagnosis I was a regular social drinker, wearing my vodka jacket like a shield against stranger danger. I had a lot of fun in those alcohol fuelled years but also a lot of arguments, hangovers and mental health problems.

It’s almost 3 years since I stopped drinking, slowly cutting down to zero and I feel amazing for it. I feel calmer, happier, more authentic. But there are times when my sensory processing differences make living sober feel hard.

The men are gone now. And I don’t need a vodka jacket to block them out. I can write to offload my feelings; I can walk on the beach at low tide collecting shells; I can stand in my nightie in the rain collecting snails off of my beautiful plants and relocating them to the park. I can hide in the Snug at home and just. be. silent.

I have a whole toolkit of ways to manage my sensory needs now. I choose a lifestyle that helps keep me well. I avoid the things that trigger me. I am protective of my space and time.

But sometimes I find myself in a crowded place, somewhere too noisy, or too hot, too messy, too encroaching on my space. In those moments my strategies go out the window and anxiety rolls over me in angry waves.

If you’re neurodivergent like me, maybe what I’m describing sounds familiar. If you’re neurotypical, you might be moving seats on the train because the angry woman deep breathing and clenching her fists is freaking you out!

Regardless, you could help. Open a window to let some air in. Offer to swap seats. Start a conversation – empathise. Tell the loud, stinky men to shut the hell up!

Sensory overwhelm is not a choice, we don’t want to feel like this. It’s not stupid or immature or a lack of control. It’s not over reacting. If you help us remove or reduce the sensory triggers, you will set us back on the path to calm and balance. You may even restore this cranky old Autistic person’s faith in humans and save me from getting my samurai sword out!!

Alone time and the great outdoors – these are my recipe for a calm mind.

Estranged on Mother’s Day

A Mother’s Love
I envy people who have close and loving relationships with their mothers.
I even envy people who are bereaved and mourning the loss of the mum they loved and were loved by.
They have known maternal love.
I didn’t. I don’t.


My mum and I are estranged.
I grieve for her, yet she is alive,
She is earthly but out of reach.
She lives around the corner, yet I haven’t seen her for almost two years.


My mum loved me once, but it was a jealous and fickle love.
It required me to be the humble servant; obedient, compliant.
Never questioning her actions.
Constantly judged for being different to her.


I grew up in a permanent state of afraid, a bystander to her destructive yet intoxicating relationship with my dad.
I looked at my parents and knew exactly who I didn’t want to be.
What was worse? The physical beatings or the spiteful name calling?
The love withheld or the shame and self loathing she caused me to feel about my teenage body, my sexual feelings?


My adolescence was overshadowed by the weight of responsibility for her and my brothers.
I was an expert in picking up the pieces.
No matter how much they took advantage of me, I loved them completely.
I thought they loved me too.


But I made a terrible mistake apparently, because I wouldn’t accept my Lot.
I wouldn’t be quiet.
I wanted to know who I am, I needed to understand myself.
I wanted to be a better version of me and so I expected them to be better version of themselves.


‘Don’t punish your wife for your affairs’
‘Don’t abandon your children, don’t take their home’
‘Be a Dad to your long lost daughter’
‘Stop bullying your wife’
‘Don’t take money from Mum that she hasn’t got’


It turned out they didn’t like being asked to look in the mirror.
It turned out that my well intentioned pleading to be better than, more than…just made them resent me.
How crushing it was to watch them repeat the mistakes of our parents, and worse.


So I went on my own journey…
I discovered my true self.
I live well with my mental health issues,
I live well without alcohol and without the false intimacy it brings.
I embrace my identity as an Autistic person.
I do a job that I love for little money because it means I can help others like me.
I have the most wonderful husband and two uniquely gorgeous, special sons who love and accept me for ME.


It turns out I am an absolute Rockstar of a Mum!!!


But all this came at a price.
I had to estrange from my Mum.
She was hurting me so much, so badly, it made my head want to explode.
She made me want to hurt myself.
She lied to me,
She lied about me, again and again.


I didn’t want to say goodbye.
I just wanted her to STOP. To LISTEN. To SEE all the sadness and fear she’d caused me.
I wanted her to CHANGE. To say SORRY. To be a Mum. To be my friend.
I loved her so very much.
I wanted her to love me back so that I could stop feeling angry at her, so I could stop fearing her next rejection.
I wanted her to be a Nanny to my boys.


But she refused to talk.
She chose to punish me instead.
She built a wall of silence and used my brothers as bricks and mortar.
She concocted elaborate lies about me to drive a wedge because me, my siblings, my grandparents.
What a shock it was to realise how fragile and shallow our relationships were, how little I was valued by my birth family.
How easy it was for them to discard me once I stopped playing the role of caretaker.


It’s been almost two years that we’ve been apart.
She has reached out once.
A message to declare her love and share confusion about why we are in this ‘situation’.
That message set me back weeks.
I cried an ocean.
How can she not understand?
How can she not apologise?
She birthed me and yet I am invisible to her, my needs, my truth, just a fantasy in her mind.


But here I am.
Against all the odds.
A much loved Mummy to my children, my World.
My children are cherished, respected and nurtured.
My children have a devoted Daddy; a playmate, a provider, their rock.
My children are safe.
My children are involved in decisions that affect them.
My children laugh a LOT.
My children are loved UNCONDITIONALLY.
My children are their own people. They are not my possessions.
My children will follow their hopes and dreams because we will show them how.


You don’t need a Mother’s love to be a good Mother.
But I’ll always miss not having a Mother’s love.

Emotional Well-being in Autism…. How to protect your Mental Health – part 1:

I have a confession. Sometimes things get on top of me and I feel sorry for myself. I think ‘why me?’ ‘It’s not fair’.

This doesn’t happen often because I AM NOT A VICTIM. I refuse to see myself as that.

In my late teens, experiencing my first romantic relationships, I confided my horrible upbringing, the violence I both witnessed and was subjected to by my parents. But I didn’t want pity. I saw myself as a SURVIVOR. I saw myself as strong. I did well at school. I earned my own money. I had friends I loved and trusted. I wore my past like a medal, proof I made it out ok.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how badly my upbringing had affected me. The constant judgement and rejection. The conditional love of a mother who both needed and resented me. Living each day with fear somersaulting in my belly. The weight of responsibility I felt towards my siblings. The strange mix of loathing and pity I felt towards my father.

These things didn’t make me a survivor. They made me angry, so angry. I wore an invisible suit of armour but I didn’t realise it. I scared people, I pushed them away before they could hurt me. I had one female school friend who I knew I could genuinely trust, and school teachers who gave me more security and validation than my parents ever did. But for the most part I was entirely alone, lost in the chaos of my own head.

So yeah, these things didn’t make me a survivor. They made me VULNERABLE.

I escape the chaos by connecting with nature

Since my Autism diagnosis at 42, I have read, watched, listened to and discussed everything I possibly can about Autism. I’ve worked so hard to marry up my lived experienced with current research and best practice because it has allowed me to know myself in a way I never did before.

Imagine at 42, after a lifetime questioning who and why you are, knowing you are different, being told you are inadequate. Imagine suddenly being giving the rule book to your brain, the instruction manual. That’s what it was like for me. It was bloody brilliant!!

Suddenly everything from my past and present made sense, I wasn’t mad, bad, weird, horrible, difficult, selfish….I was just a different type of human being, who experienced the world through a different lens. And that was ok. Sweet relief it was ok. I had permission to make choices and lifestyle changes that protected my mental and physical health. I started to accept myself. Even like myself.

Of course there were those (ignorant, arrogant, blinkered souls) who viewed my Autism as an excuse, an inconvenience, something I needed to change about myself.

Discovering treasures; the blinkered will only see untidy seaweed and will lecture about germs!

But the people that mattered, that bothered to really know me and love me; they made the effort to understand my world and the world of my sons. We grew stronger and closer.

Yet still, I was vulnerable. I have been plagued with mental health issues my whole life culminating in my Bipolar 2 diagnosis four years ago. That suit of armour I wore turned out to be paper thin, easily torn, dissolved to pulp by rain. I break so easily. Even with almost a year of trauma therapy and psychiatric medication I was scarily vulnerable to the judgement of others. And I needed to know why. I couldn’t just accept that this was my lot. And I especially didn’t want my sons to struggle with their mental health like I have.

So I did what I do best and I researched and researched and researched some more. And I came across some work by Autistica, the UK’s leading Autism research charity. They have been looking at why Autistic people are so much more vulnerable to mental health issues.

Now I already knew that my Autistic neurology predisposed me to poor mental health. In fact 80% Autistic adults experience mental health issues versus 25% of the general population. But I couldn’t accept the idea that my neurology was to blame.

What the research also showed is that Autistic people suffer more negative life events. My reaction? ‘Tell me about it!!!’ Seriously, anyone who looked at my life on paper would probably say ‘wow, she’s been pretty unlucky!!’ But it’s easy to focus on the negatives and I’m not a negative person, so I decided to compare my good life events with the bad…

Positive AND negative life events make us who we are

What’s interesting is that a medical professional would consider me an Autistic with ‘good outcomes’. This is because I tick many of the boxes of neurotypical expectations for success. In a stable relationship? Tick. Employed? Tick. Children? Tick. Home owner? Tick.

But then you look at the negative life events and you start to see why my armour is so thin. Why I break so easily. Abusive childhood. Bullied at school. Divorced. Losing our sweet first son Pablo. Chronic diseases- breast cancer and blood clotting disorder. Estrangement from my birth family.

These things would be tough for any person to experience but especially tough for a sensitive and highly vulnerable Autistic person who grew up in a hostile and unsafe environment.

Armed with this information I started to explore the relationship between my differently wired brain and the negative life events I had experienced. And what I learned was so powerful.

You see the cognitive and sensory differences of the Autistic brain don’t CAUSE poor mental health. But these differences coupled with negative life events form a dangerous cocktail. Together these things DO lead to mental health issues.

Is it our fault that we are more vulnerable to negative life events?

Not sure if this black backed Gull would see the soaking as a negative life event, but he certainly held his ground when the others didn’t!

NO IT IS NOT! But we experience these events MORE INTENSELY.

We find it HARDER TO COPE and HARDER TO RECOVER.

We BLAME OURSELVES because so often we are told it’s our fault for not coping better.

How many times have you told another human…?

Pull yourself together!

Move on!

Get over it!

Or maybe you’ve said:

Stop crying!

You’re so sensitive!

You need to change!

I’m not judging by the way. Im sure I’ve made similar unhelpful comments when weary and frustrated. The problem is, to an Autistic person this type of commentary only serves to undermine our self esteem; it tells us that our NATURAL REACTIONS ARE WRONG. That our feelings are wrong. That who we are, is wrong.

What is happening in these situations is INVALIDATION. Invalidation creates trauma. Invalidation is the breeding ground for early mental health issues. Invalidation drives Autistic masking. It makes us say yes when we mean no. It makes us constantly apologise (I am always saying sorry!) It makes us beat ourselves up for not meeting our own impossible standards.

The worrying thing is, invalidation isn’t always deliberate. Whilst it is the tool of the bully and the manipulator, it can also be done without meaning to. Because you are tired or frustrated. You want a quick solution. An end to the drama. You want the Autistic person in your life to cope better, to fit in. You think you can talk them into being more ‘normal’. Yet all you’re doing is showing them that their differences are bad, that they’re not good enough.

This Deer on a recent nature walk reminded me of me! Easily startled and lots to say for themselves…

I could go on and on but I keep reminding myself this is a blog not a book and in subsequent posts I promise to explore:

⁃ which of our cognitive and sensory differences make us more vulnerable and why

⁃ how to improve our resilience and coping strategies by understanding these cognitive and sensory differences better

⁃ Exploring tools that can help us grow and improve the skills we have in these areas

What I want you to take away from todays writing is this…

Our differently wired brains (cognitive and sensory differences) PLUS negative life events = poor mental health

Negative life events PLUS invalidation (deliberate or not) = poor mental health

But poor mental health is NOT a given. It won’t happen to every Autistic person. It doesn’t NEED to happen to the 80% as the statistics suggest.

Instead of thinking ‘How can I protect my Autistic relatives’ mental health?’ think ‘How can I help them pursue emotional well-being?’ Let that become your mantra.

⁃ Protect them from the invalidation of others.

⁃ Advocate for adjustments that meet their cognitive and sensory needs.

⁃ Support them through negative life events gently and at their own pace.

⁃ Learn what makes them feel good about themselves, and do it! This is usually linked to their special interests.

For me, when I start to feel overloaded, when I start to feel sorry for myself, I get out in the fresh air, amongst nature, and I look for the small things. The details. The proof of magic. Recently my husband and I had a rare afternoon off from parenting and despite the freezing winds, he agreed to take me beach combing.

Another happy nature walk where we spotted this noble Stag and I rebalanced my busy brain.

I photographed seagulls being battered by the waves. I rummaged through seaweed to uncover a piece of coral, a dried up jellyfish, a sea worn piece of driftwood. The pinks and blues on the inside of a crab shell. My husband and I held hands as we walked along. These are the small things that ground me. That bring me back to feeling calm and safe.

In years gone by we’d have sat on the beach with a bottle of vodka and some takeaway noodles, chatting and giggling. These are happy memories. And this would cheer up. But I’d feel terrible the next day, hungover. And we’d be bickering a few days later, the alcohol impacting our mood and our sleep.

The way I cope now is much calmer and kinder on both of us. It suits my needs as an Autistic person. We still chat and giggle but I’m a cheaper and less volatile date!

I am on a lifelong mission to achieve and sustain emotional well-being. This is just the start. See you for my next blog post 🙂

I was overjoyed to spot these wild pigs sleeping snout to snout at the weekend. They reminded me that sleep is so important for emotional well-being!

A Note to Myself

This is for the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…for all the abuse, manipulation and lies I was subjected to…

It’s been 18 months since I went ‘no contact’ with my mum and 18 months since my brothers and grandparents abandoned me for daring to question the multi generational abuse that was accepted and hidden in our so called ‘family’.

Even after years of counselling including 11 months of trauma therapy, the consequences of the abuse I suffered are far reaching. Unlike the lady who wrote the article linked below, I don’t take abuse anymore. I speak up if people hurt me and I advocate for myself fiercely. Sometimes that scares people; I hope they remember my back story and don’t take it personally.

For the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…

I love you
I’m proud of you
You are wonderfully neurodiverse
You are bonkers Bipolar
You are 2 years, 4 months sober
You are brave and strong
You are totally bad ass
You are honest and real
You have the biggest heart
You have the best husband and children
You have 2 awesome but stinky cats
You are the future
You are happy
You are safe
You are free

I have always loved Christmas and this one will be particularly special – our last in our current home. So I will bathe in the smiles of our beautiful boys, enjoy the twinkly lights, the presents, the Christmas movies, the ton of food and I will look to 2022 and our new beginnings.

It’s time to live the life I’ve always deserved. Are you living yours?

Say it with a Song

My recent blog post ‘The Art of Being Different’ explores my frustration at being judged and misunderstood for simply trying to be my true and authentic self, an Autistic female with a pick and mix of mental health problems and a heart marked ‘fragile – easily broken’.

This morning my husband sent me a link to a song and said ‘this could have been written about you!’

Now my husband is not one for grand gestures, nor is he expressive with his feelings. And over the last 18 years, despite the fact I love the bones of him, I’ve told him I want to leave him many times out of sheer frustration that our brains are so different. Lucky for me, he’s not a quitter!

So today I listened to the song he sent me, then I listened again. And I must admit (because I’m Autistic and the meaning of words can confuse me) I had to ask my husband ‘what do you mean, why is it about me?’

And he explained that I have a low opinion
of myself, but that’s not how he sees me. And he explained that he understands I just want to be accepted (weirdness and all) rather than forced to be ‘normal’.

Then I felt a sparkly star burst of love for my husband because the song is his way of saying ‘I love you. I see you. I get you’. That means the World to me.

The song is by Fred, again. It’s called ‘Dermot (see yourself in my eyes)’.

If you love someone who has a different type of brain, go have a listen. The best gift you can ever give them is the freedom to be themselves, to make their own rules and to shine in their own unique way.

‘’And if only you could see yourself in my eyes
You’d see you shine, you shine’’

“Fall in love with someone that enjoys your weirdness
Not someone that tries to talk you into being normal”

Thanks to @fredagainagainagainagainagain
for fab lyrics and an amazing song.

The Art of Being Different

You do you, I’ll do me. That’s how it’s supposed to be…

I saw this image this morning and it resonated so strongly I had to share.

So often I’ve seen quotes and memes emphasising that Autistic people are ‘Different not Less’. Which of course is true and correct but that is rarely how we are treated in real life.

A Different Neurology

Most people are born with the typical brain you would expect to see in a human being. They have typical developmental, intellectual and cognitive abilities. Many (most) refer to this as ‘normal’. Normal, grinds my gears. There can be no normal if we are committed to diversity and inclusion.

Autistic children and adults are under constant pressure to behave like the neurotypical (or NT) majority, to appear ‘normal’. We are expected to adapt, conform, follow social rules and standards that AREN’T our rules.

The NT majority for whatever reason, think their way is the right way and not meeting their expectations means we are labelled as difficult, rude, bad, mad, uncooperative and over the top.

Even those neurotypical individuals who are well educated about Autism, and have good intentions, are disappointed and frustrated by our behaviour because it doesn’t match how they think people ‘should’ behave.

Spot the Difference

Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I know, love and respect are neurotypical. It’s rare that NT’s are deliberately dismissive and cruel. But very few truly understand and respect the neurological differences of the Autistic community. And that is so, so hard to live with on a day to day basis.

I’ve lived my whole life being told the way I feel is wrong, my emotions are wrong, my reactions are wrong. Not only is this exhausting but as someone with lifelong mental health challenges and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, it is soul destroying. It means I struggle to trust people, rarely feel accepted or that I belong and am under real pressure to mask, pretend, and ‘fake’ my behaviour to please others.

Equity not Equality

Equity – giving each individual what they need to flourish.

There is so much talk of equality, equal rights. But equality means everyone is treated the exact same way, regardless of their needs or differences.

What Autistic people need and deserve is equity. Equity means each individual is given what they personally need to succeed. For example, equality would be all offering all children a place in school. Equity would mean ensuring each child is given a school place where the environment and style of learning can be adapted to meet their individual needs.

D is for Discrimination

Think about this. If Autistic people were seen as a different culture, our customs and practices would be studied and respected.

Yet we are constantly discriminated against, often worse than any other minority group. The vile hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community is at least spoken about in the media, there is a good level of social awareness. But people with Autism and especially Autism and learning disabilities, are openly treated as ‘less than’ and our access to a suitable education, work and healthcare is severely restricted.

The medical profession classifies us as disabled, yet we receive few if any concessions or assistance like a physically disabled person would.

In my work as an Autism trainer I consistently find that my lived experience of Autism and professional expertise as a trainer are hugely valued and welcomed. However, my Autistic behaviours and ways of working can frustrate the people I work with. My obsessive attention to detail, need for control and struggle with ambiguity mean I ask a lot of questions, need a lot of context and am very opinionated. I often feel like other professionals want me to be an Autistic person ONLY when I’m designing and delivering training and a neurotypical person in all other aspects of the job!

Unconscious Bias

Our Autistic brains are different to the typical human brain but you can’t see our differences. We look just like you. So even when you are told we are wired differently, your brains unconscious bias revolts against the way we think, feel and act.

You tell yourself you understand, that you are making concessions for us, flexing your rules; but if you do so with resentment in your heart, then you are still guilty of discrimination.

We will never feel safe or trust you nor will we feel accepted if you can’t let go of the idea that your way is the right way. Because it isn’t. Your way if ONE way. Not the only way.

The overwhelming judgment for being different makes us feel insignificant and lost.

A Different Future

I doubt things will change significantly in my lifetime and my hurts, the rejections, the judgements, the burden of being misunderstood, is tattooed all over me now like scars. But my hope and focus is that my sons will have a different experience to me. I am raising them to understand their neurology, the good and the not so good. I am teaching them to advocate for themselves. I am showing them how to look after their mental health and make lifestyle choices that will protect them from emotional and sensory overload. I am teaching them they are different, NOT less, and to educate or ignore people who judge them. I am celebrating their uniqueness, their strengths and their passions every day so they never have to feel the way I’ve been made to feel.

A future with the freedom to follow your own path

What Part will you Play?

You can play a part in this change by educating yourself on Autism and Neurodiversity. You can teach your brain and open your heart to embrace our differences and squash your unconscious bias. I’m not saying it will be easy. I can see why neurotypical people think we are awkward, difficult and frustrating. I have a very patient, loving, (sometimes infuriating!) neurotypical husband who has experienced more than his fair share of stress trying to understand me and our children. We are raising two very different but equally strong willed Autistic sons together, who make us cry, pull our hair out, laugh our heads off and burst with joy in equal measure. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Add two different neurotypes into the mix and of course it is harder, because different minds don’t think alike!

I don’t think there’s a magic formula and I don’t think it’s a one way street. One of the things I’m teaching my sons is about social rules and expectations because I want them to integrate in society and appreciate the typical customs of others. I also see how hard it’s been for my husband trying to understand my neurology when he has been brought up to believe there is a ‘normal’ and a right way for people to behave.

What I do know is there can be no normal in an inclusive society. That there is more than one way, no right way. And that no one has the right to judge the correctness of another persons thoughts or feelings. My brain and my heart belong to me as does yours to you. But TOGETHER, we could achieve truly amazing things…

My AMAZING family using our hearts and minds to work together and achieve wonderful things xxx

Autism & Mental Health – remembering Will Melbourne

I can hardly see through my tears as I’m typing this.

This Autistic young man died whilst experiencing severe mental health issues including suicidal thoughts and attempts to take his own life. He begged for support from health & social care, as did his family. Yet he was fobbed off and told to download a mindfulness app…

As an Autistic adult with lifelong mental health issues and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, I can confirm the fight for support is ridiculously hard and the lack of understanding of Autism in professionals is shameful. I am extremely lucky to have benefitted from an amazing NHS psychologist over the last year, but I’m 46. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

80% of Autistic adults experience mental health issues, compared to only a quarter of the general population.

Will’s mum describes him as having such a brilliant mind, loving, funny, many interests….she could have been talking about my Leo. THIS is why I work as an Autism trainer, educating parents, carers and professionals so they can understand and support us. THIS is why Autism training should ONLY be delivered by Autistic people, who are both qualified to facilitate learning and can share their unique lived experience.

Health & social care professionals will never understand Autism or take us seriously until they are able to walk in our shoes and understand our differently wired brains.

God bless Will. Prayers for your family and friends xxx

Autistic teen posts video about struggles with system https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58334061

Autism & Food – a Sensory Addiction?

I used to joke that there’s a fat girl inside me trying to get out. Like the character of Monica in the sitcom Friends, my fight to keep my food lust under control has been a dominating feature in my life. Except that unlike Monica, I was skinny as a rake growing up and only started to gain weight in my 20’s.

Since my Autism diagnosis 4 years ago, I started to notice the link between my sensory processing differences and my relationship with food. A relationship that goes beyond simply enjoying food, to a realm where I crave certain textures and tastes and the rhythm of chewing becomes more like a stim than a necessary start to the digestion process.

An Indian Thali, the ultimate flavour and texture combination in small, separated portions – my ultimate dream meal!

My dad was a very plain eater and as a result, I was brought up on a diet of mainly beige food. Think meat and potatoes on repeat. It’s no wonder I decided to become a vegetarian age 14. My mum (for all her efforts) disliked cooking and it showed. I’m sure it was a thankless task cooking for so many of us.

I still shudder when I think of rice pudding with flabby, milk swollen raisins in, that made me wretch. Stew with chunks of soft steak and slimy carrot. Or custard with big pieces of soggy, browning banana in. I would gag and choke trying to swallow the pieces whole so I didn’t have to chew them.

I used to think I was ungrateful for not enjoying the food my Mum prepared. Now I understand my sensory processing differences it’s clear that raisin rice pudding and banana custard was the birthplace of my problems with texture.

My reasons for eating were also embedded in my childhood years. I observed my mum using food as a reward to treat herself with. Her life was lonely and stressful, raising 5 young children in a marriage dominated by alcoholism and violence. Who could blame her if she sought solace in comfort food. The problem was, my siblings and I adopted those same habits.

Sugar is my go-to comfort food and this is my favourite sugary treat, a Kentish Gypsy Tart. Crunchy, crumbly, buttery pastry with a sticky mousse of muscovado sugar and condensed milk.

We have all experienced an unhealthy tendency to comfort eat, overeat and eat in secret. As adults we’ve all see-sawed between slim and fit, and overweight and sedentary. There has never been a happy medium because we are ‘all or nothing’ characters. Whether my brothers share my sensory relationship with eating I don’t know but they have all experienced my struggle to maintain a healthy weight and a balanced diet.

I have a clear memory of sneaking into the kitchen to steal a packet of crisps when I maybe 10 years old. But there was only enough packets for the school lunch boxes. So I carefully ripped open the corner of a packet of cheese and onion flavour, took out a crisp, laid it on my tongue, let the flavour dissolve then put it back in the packet!!! I repeated this revolting ritual a few more times until my my craving was satisfied. I do feel bad that my brothers must have eaten the crisps I licked first on more than one occasion! Such was my unusual and addictive relationship with food.

I chose to become vegetarian when I was 14 and from there on in my diet consisted mostly of potato, eggs and cheese. Which are all perfectly delicious and can be combined any number of ways, but they’re hardly a balanced diet. I never knew pasta existed until my first husband made me a steaming bowl of pasta shells. Frozen mixed veg and flabby boiled to within an inch of its life broccoli, were the extent of my experience with vegetables.

And because I was able to eat unlimited amounts of chocolate without any repercussions, I did just that. Until I hit my mid 20’s and that fat girl inside me got out!

Ice cream is another obsession of mine. I love pistachio and coconut best and of course chocolate flakes add an extra layer of texture. When I was pregnant with L, I ate mint choc chip ice-cream every day of my pregnancy!

I never really appreciated that I was getting fat because I was happy in my life, I felt loved by my then husband, I enjoyed my job. But one New Years Eve whilst visiting the family home my Mum commented on my size. She always had this way of making very personal observations under the pretense of it being a joke. This was no exception. So I asked then husband ‘do you think I’m fat?’ He smiled affectionately and said ‘you’re like my little ladybird, a big round body with little arms and little legs’!!

At the time I laughed my head off because I think in pictures, and the image in my head was hilarious. But later, reflecting on that comment I was mortified.

I went to work a few days later with my weight on my mind, but unsure how to address it. I was an HR Director for a well known hotel chain. Once or twice a month all senior management had to complete duty manager shifts. That day I was in one of our flagship hotels, a grand, aging beauty with a sweeping spiral staircase that circled up to each of the 6 floors of bedrooms. All of a sudden the fire alarm went off. I radioed reception to check where it was triggered. It was the 6th floor! Now when a fire alarm is triggered, any lifts automatically go to ground and can’t be used. So I had to run up 6 sweeping flights of stairs on that huge spiral staircase to identify if the triggered alarm was down to an actual fire.

Thank goodness, it wasn’t a real fire. However picture if you will a short, bespectacled, heavily overweight blonde in a straining suit and stilettos trying to race up a 6 flights of stairs when she hasn’t done any proper exercise since PE at school!! By the third floor I could hardly breathe!

I remember the smooth feel of the highly polished wooden banister as I gripped it tightly and the way my heels sunk into the plush carpet. By the 4th floor my legs where like jelly and I was panting so hard you’d think I’d run a marathon. By the 5th floor I was overtaken by someone from Maintenance who’d realized I was taking too long and nimbly overtook me like a whippet on the way to the 6th floor.

The combination of my Mum and first husband’s comments plus the failed attempt to get to the 6th floor under my own steam, was the prod I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes.

First, I had to overcome my inbuilt stranger danger and self consciousness, to join a slimming club. I can’t pretend I wasn’t mortified being weighed in front of total strangers, but my desire to lose weight and get fit was more powerful.

My food diary went everywhere with me and I started buying recipe books to cook healthy meals. Now I can’t lie (nothing but the truth, right?), but I’m a horrible cook. I was a horrible cook then and I’m a horrible cook now. I specialise in burnt offerings and no matter how religiously I follow a recipe, it never, ever turns out like the picture! But for the first time in my life I understood what I was eating and could make sensible but still tasty, choices.

I enjoy making simple platters of vegetables and protein with crunchy oatcakes. It tastes good, is visually appealing and requires no cooking skills 🙂

To my surprise the process of analysing calories and fat content, and the routine of writing down everything that I ate, quickly became addictive (unsurprising now I understand I am Autistic). Weight loss became my special interest, something to hyper focus on.

I was shocked at the relative calorie content of different foods and started to eat fruit and veg that I’d never tried before – mostly raw because of my preference for crunchy textures. I learned to enjoy rice and grains, salad and fruit smoothies (the texture of fruit is still something I find hard to overcome).

When I’m being ‘good’ I prepare batches of fresh fruit and veg to make into smoothies. The colours, textures and smells are intoxicating and lift my mood in a way sugar and beige food simply can’t.

I also became addicted to exercise. I would run on the seafront every day before work. Often I’d run after work too! Or power up and down the hotel swimming pool, visualising the fat melting off me.

I started slimming club in the January and by early June I’d lost 4 stone. I literally leapt forward to grab the bell at my final weigh in and rang it enthusiastically over my slimmed down head to celebrate reaching my target. I was euphoric. I had a waist, actual hip bones, a flat stomach. I felt reborn.

Now being Autistic I have a number of sensory processing differences . For example I am hypersensitive (over sensitive) to noise and heat – both these things have the power to reduce me to a panicky tearful mess.

However I am hyposensitive (under sensitive) to interoception, the sense we use to interpret our bodies internal signals. Interoception tells you when you’re hot or cold, hungry or thirsty, or when you need the loo or feel unwell.

My under sensitivity to interoception means I don’t usually realise I need a wee until I’m hoping on one leg and shallow breathing because I’m wetting myself! It also means I seek out food and think I’m hungry when I’m actually tired, bored, stressed or thirsty.

What I also realise now in my 40’s, since my Autism diagnosis, is that the sensory experience of eating food is itself very addictive. I love foods that are crunchy and chewy. Or that start out hard but them melt into creamy smoothness. The physical act of chewing and swallowing provides a soothing rhythm that calms my hectic mind. Often when I eat, I do so for that sensory experience, my body craving the familiar textures and tastes. This explains why I eat when I’m not even hungry. And why I’m drawn to the same foods again and again.

I heard a rumour that cake served with fruit on pretty china, has much less calories than regular cake….

In contrast anything soft, soggy or watery is stomach churning. It’s why I can’t enjoy soft fruits and why fragrant but watery soups and noodles make me feel nauseous just by looking at them.

I clearly remember a school holiday when I was 13 – it was a ‘PGL’ adventure trip. We had to make up our own pack lunch each day and the teacher supervising lunches insisted I pack an orange. Now I really didn’t like oranges. The stringy white pith all over them freaked me out. The leaky juiciness was far too messy. And the squishy texture made my stomach turn. So there I was half way up a mountain in Wales and said teacher reminds me to eat my orange. I reluctantly commenced the unpeeling, trying hard to remove all the pith. It was quite a small orange, more of a large clementine, and I suddenly thought if I shoved it in all at once I could get it over and done with. So that’s what I did. I put the orange in my mouth whole….

I tried to chew but a combination of the texture and size of it made me gag, then inhale. The orange became stuck in my throat and I was choking. The terrifying thing was, I wasn’t making a sound. I couldn’t make a sound. So I just stumbled around flapping my arms in panic until a teacher realised what was happening and gave me an almighty whack on the back. The orange shot out. The still whole, saliva covered orange. The astonished stares of my classmates burned into me, more painful than the burning in my throat. Such is my phobia of food I don’t like, that I almost killed myself trying to avoid it!

At 46 I still struggle with managing my eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight. I understand how to eat healthily and I love to exercise but my motivation and commitment fluctuate and therefore so does my weight.

Back in my twenties when I first became overweight, my weight loss journey became my special interest. My Autistic brain performs best when I can hyper focus.,So food diary’s and portion control and intense exercise became my hyper focus to the exclusion of most other things. It’s not so easy now to hyper focus when you have two young children to look after…That’s not an excuse that’s my truthful experience.

So I’m trying to find a balance. Eating healthily as a family. Doing exercise together that everyone enjoys. That’s why I bought Guinevere my trusty trike! I haven’t yet found a solution to the sensory cravings I fulfil by eating, but I’m trying to use mind over matter and talk myself out of reaching for food unless I’m sure I’m hungry. Mindfulness is also helpful to improve your ability to read your body’s internal signals. Think of it as fine tuning your radio reception, so that you get a clear signal instead of a crackly, fuzzy one!

My children, the family I’ve created with my husband, are my hyper focus. Meeting their needs and having fun and adventures with them takes priority over everything else and I choose to live this way. Before I know it they’ll be more interested in going out with their friends than rock-pooling or cycling trips or family movie nights.

Ultimately food is fuel, we all need it to survive. But for Autistic individuals like me, the sensory relationship between what we eat and drink and how we feel is an important one to explore. If we can satisfy our sensory cravings with healthier options that still provide the texture, colour and taste we need; if we can learn to interpret our bodies signals so we don’t confuse thirst, boredom or tiredness with hunger; then we can achieve a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight without it becoming an obsession or a burden.

Healthy eating can be colourful, interesting and delicious but it takes time to prepare. My husband is a phenomenal cook but very busy with his job. On weekends and holidays he spoils me with tasty, homemade vegetarian meals.

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

Elton John sang ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. But for Autistic people like me, the social expectation to provide greetings and farewells can be one of the hardest and most uncomfortable aspects of interacting with others.

It sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Saying hello and goodbye is surely one of the first social rules we are taught when we are children, alongside ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

But it’s not simple. Even when you know the person or people really well. Our youngest son H is 6 and when I walk him through the playground every morning he stares straight ahead and appears not to hear the chimes of hello from his headmistress nor his class teachers. I fight the urge to apologise for him as I remind him ‘say hello H!’ But he doesn’t say it, he doesn’t even look up at them. And I know exactly how he feels.

H, our intrepid explorer who encouraged us on this climb by announcing ‘embrace your inner billy goat!’

If I notice a familiar face when I’m out and about at the supermarket I stare at the floor, studiously read labels on tins or pretend I’m on a phone call, praying the other person hasn’t noticed me. Even if I meet up with a friend or family member, I find it hard to deliver an appropriate greeting. It’s like a cloak of awkwardness that I can’t get undone in time to appear ‘normal’. It’s worse if I haven’t seen the person for a while. No matter how close we are, those first few minutes of greeting and welcome feel excruciatingly awkward. It’s almost like I’m starting from scratch every time I see someone after a few weeks or months apart.

Our little fish (can you spot them swimming) are doing a good job of disguising themselves much like their Mumma.

Goodbye’s are even worse. It’s such an ambiguous word. Unless you know exactly when you will see the other person again, the uncertainty makes the Autistic heart feel vulnerable and anxious. Or we may feel overcome by embarrassment. Should we hug or kiss the other person? Shake hands? Wave? Keep waving as they walk away? Should we close the door once they’re off the step or wait until they reach their car? I’m laughing to myself as I write this because it is oddly comical to me, the way I torture myself wondering if I’ve said and done the correct thing.

Like this winding path, it’s easy to get lost trying to find the right thing to say or do…

There have been countless occasions where I’ve simply disappeared without saying a word rather than experience that awkward goodbye. It doesn’t even have to be an important person in my life. Just saying goodbye to someone I’ve admired at work, or a teacher I was grateful for, or a work experience student I mentored; each farewell seems to fill me with regret and loss, so it’s easier to avoid the leaving drinks or not turn up for the ‘last day’ to escape the dreaded goodbye.

I escape around the boulders like the water in this river to avoid uncomfortable social interactions.

Even worse are the ‘forever’ goodbyes. When I separated from my first husband, I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. I worried about him constantly and insisted on seeing him regularly as friends. I thought I was right to hold onto that person who had been so important in my life for so many years. But of course, you can’t have it both ways. I was only prolonging the agony for both of us. As for his family, I had loved them very much. They were kinder to me and had done more for me than my own parents ever had. But I was so ashamed for letting them down and hurting their son, that instead of talking, explaining, apologising, I went underground. I stayed away. I didn’t phone or visit. This is something that has weighed heavy on my heart for 18 years. And now I’m crying because I’m angry at myself for not doing things the way I should have, the way they deserved.

Time and distance doesn’t stop the regret when you mishandle a goodbye

I never even realised that my issues with greetings and farewells was part of my Autism until I saw how my sweet boy H struggled with the very same thing. So I did my research and hallelujah! I wasn’t rude, weird, cold or unfeeling – I was simply Autistic. At the very core of our neurology is our difficulty with social communication and social interaction. Marry this with the fact we find transitions and change very difficult, how vulnerable we feel with ambiguity and uncertainty – and it’s no wonder that the hellos and goodbyes most neurotypical people take for granted, can be a source of great stress for Autistic individuals. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we feel too much! All of our emotions are dialled up to ‘ten’. The finality of goodbye can be physically painful, gut wrenching. So sometimes we avoid it all together, wounding others in the process.

Yesterday my therapist, guardian of my sanity and keeper of secrets for the last 10 months, told me he is changing jobs. Consequently, my therapy will come to an end in September. And I will need to say goodbye.

He asked me how I felt about my therapy coming to an end and I told him I felt sad, whilst trying to swallow the wave of overwhelming grief and fear that flooded through me. This man, this stranger, has listened patiently, without judgement, while I shared my most personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. He has steered me to find answers and coping strategies. He has helped me to prioritise my needs and recognise my strengths.

My priorities, my strengths, are right there playing in Stickle Tarn after climbing to the top of a mountain!

Most importantly, this man has been incredibly kind, patient and consistent, which is priceless to someone like me. Throughout my life I’ve been hurt, manipulated and let down by family members who I loved and trusted, leaving me wounded and defensive, on high alert for danger. But this man, my psychologist, has provided a safe space where I don’t feel awkward or weird for being Autistic, where I don’t feel like a failure for having a mental illness.

Our early therapy sessions were exhausting and confusing. I struggled to connect with the softly spoken man behind the mask. Not being able to see his face made the conversation feel surreal. I was so angry at the world and resentful that I needed therapy in the first place. I just wanted to be fixed but of course mental health doesn’t work like that.

Foxgloves everywhere. A stunning riot of colour, fragile in the breeze…but can be harmful. This is how I see my neurodiverse brain.

It got easier when our sessions moved online. A video call from the safety of my own home, no masks to obscure our identities. No unwanted sensory distractions, no badly lit meeting rooms or unfamiliar sound or smells.

Through therapy I cried (a lot), laughed (mostly at myself) and I have slowly realised that much of the pain I feel at being estranged from my birth family is because I never got to say goodbye. I realize now, that thing I fear and dread is a necessary part of grieving. Without a farewell there is just unfinished business and unspoken words. There is no closure. This is something I will learn to live with because I have to. Because we all have to sometimes, right?

Therapy is climbing gorges and jumping off waterfalls because you can!!!

And in a few short weeks I will say goodbye to my therapist who I am so thankful for. That will hurt. I will feel scared and sad. But I will also feel proud because I’ve come a long way in 10 months. I am stronger, calmer, healthier, happier. I’m still Autistic, you can’t escape neurology and actually I wouldn’t want to. I’m still mental – Bipolar is not something I’ll ever be cured of but it’s something I’m learning to live with.

Trust and acceptance in who you are and why you are. That’s what these 3 give me.

So I will say goodbye and I will try and do it properly. Maybe I’ll write a card. I will most definitely say thank you. At 46 I am finally able to accept that some people are only meant to be in my life for a short while. Others (like my husband N and our children) are in my forever plan and no matter what happens, I will love them till the end of time.

Until next time. Goodbye.

Sunset on Windermere.

All photos were taken on our recent holiday to the Lake District. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Memories – Torments and Treasures

Have you ever picked a scab until it bled or poked a sore tooth with your tongue, then wished you’d left it well alone?

My hurts are invisible, but they sting and bleed regardless. They are healing, but it’s a slow process and I’m an impatient person.

Memories can torment us, slowly healing wounds that we pick at like a scab. They can also be like precious treasure, sparkling, beautiful, something to be cherished. The balancing act for me is to not let those toxic and tragic memories overshadow the treasure.

Something I’ve observed in non-Autistic, people is that they can be skilled at smothering the memories they don’t want to think about. They can bury those memories that would otherwise torment them. The lock the vault, throw away the key. They don’t just lock away that which has hurt them, they bury the memories where they have behaved badly, where they have hurt others. Maybe it’s down to survival instinct? Or maybe they find it harder to reflect and learn from past mistakes?

In contrast, Autistic people like me may find it impossible to escape the hurts of the past, cannot hide from our mistakes. Let me explain why.

It all began with Dinosaurs

Prehistoric Monster trail – Crystal Palace Park

Some of my earliest memories are visiting Crystal Palace Park in London with my mum to explore it’s famous, prehistoric monster trail. I must only have been 2 years old. Mum would have been 18. Apparently I walked and talked very early and I was often the only one Mum had to talk to during those long and lonely hours when my dad was out at work or down the pub.

The gigantic dinosaur replicas lurking behind the trees and in the lakes filled me with awe. I still remember the little animal farm and queuing up to ride a pony. When I try and picture myself or my mum, my mind draws a blank. But the gaze of those magnificent dinosaurs stay with me.

Not scary at all according to the Pigeons!

Over the years I’ve often revisited my memories of Crystal Palace Park, but have never actually gone back there. I suppose because things that you recall with affection and wonder from your childhood and adolescence can disappoint when you revisit them in adulthood. There’s a disconnect, a gap between the original memory and the reality you experience when you revisit it.

Mind the Gap please

There’s many a movie I’ve adored in my younger years, that my adult eyes see as horribly dated or just plain cheesy! Or places that don’t affect me the same as they once did. I returned to my high school in my early twenties to deliver a careers presentation and was shocked by how small and ordinary it felt compared to the echoing, winding maze of the school in my memories.

Autistic people often have very specific recall of situations, places and people. We remember not just the event, or the conversation, we remember the smells, sights, sounds, emotions that we experienced in that moment. We can access our past in full technicolour, surround sound, we can rewind the full sensory experience.

Technicolour memories – Crystal Palace Park

The downside of this, is that negative memories can live inside us for a lifetime, with the power to injure and traumatise us like it was yesterday. Forgiveness is always possible but we can’t forget our hurts. They fight for headspace with the reliving of our past mistakes. Only answers can alleviate our pain, knowing why or how someone could cause us suffering. But the answers rarely come; they are buried in the brain vaults of the people who hurt us.

The upside of our detailed memory recall is the happiest memories, the moments of joy, the triumphs, times of peace and connection with your environment when you see a place so exquisitely beautiful…those can be called upon just as easily. These I’ll gladly share; screaming with laughter as I sled down the icy Cowboy Hill with my brother and cousins during snowy winters in Kent; sitting on a riverbank in New Zealand as the sun set, listening to the song of the Tui bird while Nick fished and I lost myself in a book, the sun warm on my neck; daytime naps on the bed with Leo and Henry when they were babies – the way they curled into my tummy as if they were trying to get back inside! The incredible relief I felt at discovering I am Autistic, as if I’d finally been handed the instruction manual to my brain. The gratitude I felt towards those friends and family who chose to learn about my differences.

The Before

For those of you that are new to my blog, I’ve been estranged from my father for ten years, since I was pregnant with my second son. I’ve been ‘no contact’ with my Mum since last June, after many years of fighting to get answers that were buried in her brain vault. Finally her silence and the conflict this caused became too much.

Every bit as fascinating and impressive as I remember, even better because I could share it with our sons.

I asked for understanding and support from my 5 younger siblings and my grandparents – I have always loved and supported these family members and believed they loved me back. I did not ask them to take sides. I just didn’t want them to reject me like she always rejected me when I stepped outside my role of loyal, unquestioning servant.

To my complete shock my brothers, their partners and my grandparents, all chose to take sides, gaslighting me, blaming my mental health, calling me a liar, or just plain ignoring me. I was scapegoated because none of them wanted to address the inter generational abuse that had been swept under the carpet in our family for so many years. It was ugly and inconvenient. Blaming me was far easier than unlocking the horrible past we’d shared.

So effectively, I lost my whole birth family at once, overnight, and it broke my heart. How’s that for a memory? How’s that for an oozing, itchy scab crying out out to be picked? My innocent sons (age 6 and 9) also lost their extended family overnight which was tough for them to comprehend. Thankfully they have healed far quicker for being young and for being truly loved by their parents.

Treasure

I have treasure a plenty too. I have a wonderful husband who stood up to my birth family and called them out for their cowardly behaviour. I also have a great psychologist who has helped me see how I’ve been groomed since childhood to take responsibility for my family members. He helped me see how one sided and harmful those relationships have been and how I’d never been accepted or supported with my differences (I am late diagnosed Autistic at 42 and have bipolar 2 disorder, the latter due in part to the trauma I experienced in my childhood and adolescence).

It’s been almost a year now with no contact. I’ve had a few horrible messages from two of my brothers via my blog; spiteful comments from my grandfather; but largely just silence. My life is undoubtedly calmer, happier and safer without them in it. I’m stronger mentally, I laugh more, I’m thriving in my career. My sons are enjoying a more relaxed and fun Mum and my husband is the glue holding us together.

A fearless duck posing on the spine of an impressive stone dinosaur!

Old Wounds

The problem is those old wounds. Those traumatic memories I can’t stop picking at. I keep having bad dreams about my mum. She often had poor health and in my dreams she is walking up a steep hill, but she falls and stumbles. I am in my car and I get out and try to help her up but she snarls at me and pushes me away. I wake up crying.

When I was growing up, I adolised my mum. She was only 16 when she had me, and she told me she was forced to marry my dad who was violent to her even then. As a child I saw her as someone I needed to save and protect. I feared and hated my father but I was besotted with my mum and just wanted to make her life better. I think it was almost a codependency. She leaned on me heavily and I accepted that role. I wanted to be her saviour.

The Park is vibrant with wildlife, it’s not just the Dinosaurs watching you!

In my teens I started to stand up to my dad when he would turn on her, and his response was to redirect his violence and aggression on me. The tipping point was that she did nothing about this. She ignored it, turned a blind eye. When I tried to get help from my Aunt, Mum beat me herself for sharing private family issues. She became more physically and emotionally cruel towards me than my father ever was. To this day I don’t know if her actions were deliberate or as a result of her own poor mental health because of the abuse she suffered.

Contributing to the growing separation between me and Mum was my high school experience. High school helped me develop some independence and self esteem. I realised how clever I was, that I could have a bright future. I saw that other families were not like mine. I realised that my Mum should have protected us children from growing up amongst alcoholism and domestic violence. I realised that I wanted to escape the family home and be nothing like my parents.

The boys named this squirrel Robert and shared their lunch with him.

I suspect now, that in striving to be independent and by showing my unhappiness with the way I’d been brought up, my mum must have felt deeply rejected and pushed away. I had loved her so completely and that must have meant a lot to her when my dad was treating her so badly. I do believe she really loved me as a child and that my unconditional, naive love was a lifeline for her. I feel sad that in trying to save myself and build a better life for me, I must have really hurt her. I never meant to do that.

I still carry anger and resentment towards my parents and my siblings for the way they have behaved towards me over the years. I’ve had fiery and emotional confrontations with them when I’ve felt mistreated and misunderstood. My psychologist says I shone a mirror on them, challenging their destructive behaviours and their refusal to change and do better. I wanted them to take responsibility and not to repeat our parents mistakes. I truly thought I could help them save their marriages, reconnect with lost children, look after themselves better, be happy. But they didn’t want to change or admit they had problems. I was trying to save them like I’d saved myself but I now realise that my honesty and directness only upset them and alienated them from me. They never asked for my help but I kept on trying to give it anyway.

Wild Parakeets providing a burst of colour against the grey sky

Despite the fiery adult relationship I had with my mum, I tried so hard to involve her in the family I built with my husband. I supported her emotionally, practically and financially over the years and most importantly I loved and cared for her when my brothers were too wrapped up in their own lives and only came to her for money she didn’t have or for child care. Save random grand gestures, they were not there for her on a daily basis like I was. I still felt that responsibility for her and thought I could save her. Give her a better life. I even imagined her living with us in her old age.

She was by far a better Grandma than she’d been a Mum and we had some truly happy times together. But periodically, when her life felt difficult or unfair to her, she’d blow up at me out of the blue and send me hurtling back into the shoes of my 15 year old self. The rejection, the degradation, the judgement would wash over me like a tidal wave. I’d feel literally terrified, she held so much power over me, and her desire to be right, to appear blameless would override any guilt she should have felt for her irrational attacks. She told terrible lies and twisted the truth to make herself look like a victim. Again, I have no idea if her behaviour was calculated and manipulative or simply her survival instinct kicking in after the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of my father.

Finding Peace without Answers

I still love my Mum and still worry for her. But I will never try to re-establish contact because I know she will never change and because the only person I am responsible for saving is myself.

I suspect that she never truly forgave me for ‘leaving’ her as a teen. She sacrificed her freedom and lived under my father’s tyranny so she could raise my brothers and I. In comparison my life must have seemed easy, even selfish to her – the way I built my career, my happy marriages to truly good, decent men who didn’t bully me or expect me to serve them like her husbands did to her. My financial independence and security. She has never had those things and I think that resentment and jealousy drove her to mistreat me even whilst she loved me.

Pterosaurs have frightened me since I was little. They are still just as scary close up. I couldn’t help glancing to the sky, just in case!

I also realise that my brothers will never understand and respect my experiences because she treated them entirely differently to me. My attempts to speak up and address the abuse I suffered was a massive inconvenience to them. I was expected to keep my head down and take that broom they are so fond of and sweep it all away under that carpet. Just to make things easy for them. They tried to blame my Autism and my mental health for my struggles. They told me I was the one that needed to change.

But I gave them back their broom and I held up my mirror and they turned and ran, rather than face themselves. Part of me doesn’t even blame them anymore. They’re just different to me. I miss the innocent little boys they were when I look at childhood photos on my wall. I feel sad at the way they’ve all struggled as adults. I know there is a good heart in each of them. I miss the nephew I’ve been kept from. But my brothers made a conscious choice to run away, and I won’t be looking for them again. I wish them well and hope they find peace and happiness with partners who will help heal them, instead of hiding their problems.

I had been thinking about writing Mum a letter to tell her that I wish her well, that I love her and hope she can be happy. I guess I want a calmer, gentler closure than the the eruption of emotion that happened last June when I ended contact. I wanted to explain why I made that decision and that I didn’t do it it to hurt or punish her, but to save myself. I’d tried to do it so many times over the years but it was my brothers that kept handing me that broom and I was weak and tried to sweep it all away, like they did and do. Because I truly loved her and I wanted her to love me back.

Some of the Dinosaurs are in need of repair, but this fellow was in great shape, right down to his jagged white teeth.

Now I realise, contacting my mum would be like picking that oozing scab. In my heart I’m still seeking validation, craving for her to apologise and admit the things she’s done because her denial is the hardest thing to bear. But I think she is incapable of self reflection and honesty when it comes to me. I think being the victim is her survival mode and she’s afraid her world will collapse if she unlocks that vault. I have to learn to live with that. She is not a pantomime villain, she’s lived through her own difficult and unhappy childhood, a violent marriage and had to raise 6 children on her own. I was the thing that got sacrificed, the place she could unleash her frustration at the world and the mistreatment she’d suffered.

I’m never going to be ok with that, but I hope she is ok. I hope my brothers step up and repay her for single handedly raising them. I hope her parents respect her right to her health and happiness. I hope she finds someone to love her the way I loved her as a child, unconditionally. And I hope she goes back to Crystal Palace Park one day and revisits happy memories under the gaze of those magnificent dinosaurs.

Happy Endings

There is a wonderful American drama series ‘This is Us’ that follows a family of adults siblings and their parents from childhood to adulthood. My husband teases me because I cry at every episode. I cry because no matter what ups and downs they experience, that family loves and supports each other. They overcome conflict and just grow stronger. I suppose some people would say it’s cliche, that it’s make believe. But to me, it’s beautiful. It shows me what a functional family looks like and yes, it makes me sad because I never had that with my birth family. But I have that with my husband and our children and I know my children will have that in their futures.

And for now while I’m still healing I will put a plaster over the wound, try not to look at it or pick it and wait for it to be gone. I figure it will leave a scar. I’m ok with that. This is ME and I am learning to accept me, warts and all. I was brave enough to look in that mirror, I faced the bad in me, head on. I learnt to be a better person; I found my true self and I found my happiness. My life will not be plain sailing. My bipolar means my mind drops away to sad and dark places more often than I’d like. Being Autistic means I’ll always be misunderstood by some people and feel hurt and rejected as a result.

But I will keep on healing and fixing myself because that’s my responsibility and my husband and children deserve the best of me.

Treasure made more precious by sharing it with my loved ones