Letter from the North

Letter from the North Fri 8-Sep-2017

Trouble and Strife 

Teresa is originally from London and although not a cockney, I felt that the cockney rhyming slang for ’wife’ would serve double duty for today’s letter.  

However, my sense of humour may not be yours so, for clarity, ‘that was meant to raise a smile’. 

I am being so careful because this was not an easy letter to write and it was an even harder letter for Teresa to review. 

Being aware of how my autistic reactions to ‘normal’ situations look to neurotypicals puts me in a difficult position. Do I respect the sensibilities of the NTs, do I say (write) that yes, they have a point; yes, I see that they don’t understand; yes, if I persist in explaining they will get upset, angry or just bored? 

Well, that is what I often do, it just makes for a quieter life. The problem is that my frustration at the injustice of the situation grows as more such situations occur. At some point, it will explode (I will go into meltdown), often over an incident that really is trivial, even for me! 

So, I’m going to try to dissect an incident and explain what was happening in my world. It was uncomfortable to write, it will be uncomfortable reading – it was for Teresa –  but it is only by going through this process in private that, as a couple, Teresa and I are able to reduce the number of times I explode (meltdown) over what seems, to her, to be a trivial incident. Making it public in this case is about trying to help increase awareness of just how different an incident can appear from these two different perspectives, and the consequences of not understanding (by NT and autistic). 

As much as I can, I will try to be even-handed, to explain where I think an NT view of the situation would differ, to explain where I realise that such a difference exists and what that means to me. 

Not all autistics are aware of the ‘why’ NTs have such a different view, or indeed that they even do have such a different view of things. On the other hand, there are NTs who don’t understand (and/or don’t believe) that autistics think so differently. In the end, I believe there’s blame/lack of understanding/responsibility enough for all of us to share 🙂 . 

So, this week ended with a row between Teresa and myself and the fallout is always a wipe-out for both of us, though for very different reasons and with different symptoms, neither of us come out the other side (of the row) well. 

As a rule, I don’t tend to look deeply into our relationship here, especially the bumps on the road. We did use to do some of this in another blog, Life in a Mixed Marriage (REF) but, for Teresa, that project has moved to the back-burner for now, which means this is the only medium I have to try and explore this stuff.  

Hmmm, I’m sure that could be viewed as a criticism of her, it isn’t, it’s just the way it is.   

Therein lies my dilemma.  

Do I work overtime trying to spot when what I say may be misunderstood and cause offence, or does the listener/reader do a bit of work and understand that, being me, I am just stating a fact with no hidden agenda (see the news article I referred to last week when the friend ‘understood’ no offence was intended)? 

It is a dilemma and I know from personal experience, that the majority of NTs would say it’s my job to respect their feelings and want to teach me social skills so I can achieve this for them.  

I rarely (if ever) hear them saying that it’s their job to respect my feelings, and so the imbalance starts. 

Anyway, to continue:  

I can’t explain to you why, but I can say that the pattern of this particular incident is the pattern of the biggest stumbling block Teresa and I have in our relationship and has been MY biggest stumbling block in all my relationships – emotional and other. So, it does seem worth exploring. It is absolutely not a criticism, it is me examining why I do what I do and why it seems to cause such difficulty to the NTs around me. 

Again, I am sure there are many who would say ‘well you are the common denominator Bean, so you are the problem.’ I’m not stupid, I realise that, but as discussed in a recent letter, you need to apply the ’can’t vs won’t’ test before you judge whether, as the common denominator, I am responsible in some way – or whether I am the common victim? If we look at Karpman’s drama triangle we might take a moment to consider where you and I fit into that model. I like Transactional Analysis (TA), it is quite revealing of the way that I have to work out the rules of social behaviour I encounter in the world around me. TA actually does this and is, I find as an autistic, quite effective in explaining why so many of those rules don’t make sense at face value. I will explore the whole area of TA in another letter. 

The bottom line here is that I do understand how the way I am affects my relationships with the world around me and I use that knowledge to try to make my relationship with that world more harmonious and accepting. 

However, me making that effort does NOT change who I am, and I have to ask the question, who decided that the responsibility for understanding and adapting was mine alone? 

So, no lectures please, this is about learning and understanding, I know this is one-sided, I know it makes no sense to many of the NTs who might read this, BUT that doesn’t make it wrong, it just confirms how different I am to your experience of yourself and others like you. 

How did it start? Well, we will both have different opinions on that but I can only talk about mine and in order to look at that, we must go back in time. 

As you read this next section please remember that for me, whether it is like that for you or not, problems are rarely trivial, they are invariably major. I don’t have a lot of points on the scale between ok and disaster, so whilst the words may seem to be low key, the emotions behind them are anything but. 

It’s all about oil, heating oil, the sort delivered by tanker.  

I’ve lived in houses heated this way since 1991 (so over 25 years), I know how I work with the stuff, I know what mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve done to sort it. I know what lessons I’ve learnt and what rules of thumb I use to try to prevent me making the same mistake again, I worry about this stuff, I try to get it right, not getting it right is a problem for me.  

  • Letting the tank run out – problems of air and rubbish from the bottom of the tank getting into the pipes and thence into the boiler. Having to pay to get the problem resolved, having to learn how to resolve it myself 
  • Letting the tank get low just before Xmas and no oil company will deliver until after the new year. Having to get in the car, drive to the depot, buy ½-doz (well four to be strictly accurate) plastic barrels and have them filled with the oil. Drive home and somehow lift each heavy barrel and get the oil from the barrel into the tank. Realising that this is such hard work and buy an oil pump so it’s easier the next time. Yes, there was a next time and yes, the pump worked brilliantly and I already had the barrels. Neither pump nor barrels came to the house we live in now – part of me trying to cut down all the stuff I have for ‘just in case’ because we don’t have the space to store it ☹. I need my ‘just in case’ stuff and yet have sacrificed a lot in the interests of domestic harmony. 
  • Ordering a tank full and getting one only partly filled because they asked, ‘how much’, I said ‘fill it up’ they then asked me to estimate. The estimate was then the exact amount they delivered. I wasn’t good at estimating. I learnt to tell them something equal or greater than the capacity of the tank – then they always filled it up. 
  • Not bothering to monitor the price of oil and instead refilling at a time when the price was high, when I could have done it for MUCH less if I’d chosen a different time of the year 

So, here we are, in Pendeen, I have no backups, without oil we cannot heat the water because we have no hot water tank (we did in my previous house, so I could use an immersion heater). 

So,  

  • I monitor the tank level closely, which is difficult because the level gauge is dirty and hard to read at the top and the bottom and so judging how low it is, is difficult. 
  • I monitor the price of oil, I monitor our usage of oil and I try to ensure we have plenty of oil to ride over peaks in the oil price. 
  • Every time I go outside the back door, I see the oil tank and I worry. 

However, Teresa also worries about the cost of the oil. I get that, but we always use it so it’s always going to be a cost, albeit the cost comes in lumps. So, I try to be sensitive to her worries and put off ordering a new tank full as long as I can even though that makes the actual “lump” higher because there is less oil. It doesn’t work for me but does for her, so I accept this. 

Does Teresa check the oil? Of course she doesn’t, she treats it as continuously available, she doesn’t check the gas even though our gas comes from cylinders. I worry about those things and she is able to treat them as always on. I don’t mind that, but it does put all the responsibility for not making a bad judgement on my shoulders. I didn’t say that Teresa puts the responsibility on my shoulders, that’s what I do, it is how I am. 

So, I’ve let the oil get as low as I dare, I am terrified it’s too low, I can’t see from the level and I know anytime soon it’s going to be colder and Teresa or I will want some heating – I get up at 5:30am, I don’t like it when it’s cold and I do like hot water to get washed and shaved with! 

So, I asked Teresa to get the oil filled up. I had already judged that the oil prices were low and in any case, we just had to. 

So JDI (Just Do It) – just ring up and order a tank full. Teresa is at home, I am at work, so it’s easier for her to play telephone tag. 

What happened? Well Teresa took control, rather than doing just as I asked. She asked them how much it would cost for 1000 litres, I don’t know why, it costs what it costs. She then ordered a fill-up. 

Guess how much they delivered for our ‘fill up the tank’? Exactly 1000.0 litres and when questioned, the driver insisted that was a fill up, which it wasn’t. Why can’t people just admit when the they do something wrong and fix it, no big deal. 

The bill was put through the door but Teresa was busy and didn’t notice. The next day she did see it said only 1000 litres but wasn’t worried because that was ‘enough’. I got home and asked if the oil had been delivered yesterday as she had said it would be. I wasn’t micro managing her, just trusting which is why I waited a day for her to let me know. She said, ‘oh yes’, I asked where the receipt was and she pointed to it on the kitchen table. I saw 1000 litres and I realised what had happened. I was angry, my management of the oil had been usurped and nobody but me cared. Teresa didn’t, she hadn’t thought that 1000L and ‘filled’ were different enough to worry about, the delivery driver didn’t care, the oil company didn’t care. The only person bothered was me, so, clearly, I must be wrong to be so upset because nobody else is. Except all the ‘else’ people are NTs and assume their reaction and mine must be the same – no big deal. 

I snapped, went out (slamming the door) to check the level in the tank. It was clearly not full. Close, but not full and full is full it is NOT nearly full. Was I angry with Teresa, yes, but only indirectly, I was angry because things hadn’t happened the way I needed them to and now I had to sort it out. Did it need sorting? Well that depends on your point of view. For Teresa, of course not, but for me, absolutely. Who is right? Well Teresa for Teresa, and me for me. 

From that moment onwards, all Teresa wanted to talk about was how she felt about me being angry and that I needed to accept it was wrong of me to get angry (which indeed it was, no argument there). 

All I wanted was for her to understand was how important getting the oil refill was and how much it mattered to me that she, as my proxy in talking to the oil company, made sure that what they did was how I wanted it done and if they failed (as they did and they do from time to time) get it fixed rather than shrugging shoulders and leaving it for me to find out and effectively saying ‘it’s ok, what’s the fuss?’ 

So, here we have the dilemma. I am bothered by the initiating event 

  1. Get it right and order what I asked (fill) and don’t mention quantity because I know what happens when you do 
  2. If you get it wrong or they get it wrong, realise how devastating that is for me and get it resolved before I find out. 

Teresa is upset because I was (in her terms) unfairly cross (the fact that I was cross at the whole situation of which her part was only a part, is, unfortunately, invisible to her). She can’t get past her upset and logically cannot see the cause and effect issue that is bothering me.  

This, in its most general sense is, I suspect, at the heart of many an autistic vs NT conflict and the reason for poor resolution of that conflict. 

So, it is with us as a couple ☹ 

Remember, as an autistic, obsessing (perseverating even – Teresa thinks this could be a Bean language mangling word, it is isn’t, it is there in the dictionary and is often used to describe some aspects of autistic behaviour) is something we do well. Being sequential in our processing is also something we do well. I know Teresa is upset at how I behaved, I know I could have done better. BUT, I need to solve the ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ issue FIRST, and then move on. Teresa has already moved on. 

Initiating event => My Response => Her reaction to my response 

I have to resolve the initiating event, and I can’t move on to the next part of the ‘row’ until I have. It’s not that I don’t respect that we need to deal with the subsequent events, it’s just I need to fix the first one first. Teresa is trapped in her reaction to me and I am trapped in my reaction to the initiating event. We are in different places and neither of us can move (me forwards and Teresa backwards). 

How does it resolve? It resolves as it always does. Teresa has moved on from the initiating even and is unable to return to it, so I have to give up on her engaging with me about it. As a result it ‘feels’ to me that she is unable to take the initiating event seriously and I just have to accept that (distressing as it is to me) and move onto dealing with her upset. 

I resent this and it makes me even more determined that the next time the pattern repeats I will stop it happening and yet it does repeat and does happen again. In the end, what bothers me is that a ’bothering event’ is not recognised as such at the time by most (if not all) NTs and so, like Teresa, once they have moved on they are as trapped in subsequent events as I am trapped in the initiating event.  

The result is that discussion (row, …, call it what you want, for it is many things) is about her reaction to my reaction and never about why it started. 

Using my words, it stinks, it’s awful and it feels unresolvable.  

To solve ‘my’ problem, I could become incredibly controlling, make Teresa tell me all the details of every event with the oil people; get her to check the level when the driver is delivering; check his paperwork; ring them up to tell them they did it wrong. That is what I want, what I NEED to do; or I trust her to deal with my needs in a way that works for her.  

The problem is that I understand that I need to trust her, and I try very hard to do so, but I do not handle that trust being broken (my perception) and being told it wasn’t, that I’m being unreasonable.

Micro-managing her is unreasonable, trusting her is reasonable – I’m in the wrong if I do and I’m hurt if I don’t and wrong if I complain. 

On top of all of this, there are the communication problems of someone obsessed with words and language (Teresa) and someone totally pattern dominated (me). 

She just cannot handle the pattern stuff, she doesn’t even understand what it means and in trying to understand she uses words which don’t work for me, it can be a Catch-22 problem.  

I can just about cope with words but I don’t use them well, they rarely mean to you what they meant to me and as a result all the communication we have is with Teresa speaking her native language and me working in an alien one. 

  1. My world as an autistic is very different and hard for an NT to understand 
  2. Because I am not language based, explaining this difference in a way that any NT can understand is impossible unless they also happen to be a strong pattern based person 

This is, and can only be, a recipe for disaster, and it inevitably ends up requiring me to hide this difference so that I don’t cause Teresa even more distress than I already have. I do that because I love her. I do it at work because I need the job. 

BUT, it means that I am not being allowed to be who I am so, for much of the time, I go hide inside myself – and then Teresa gets upset that we don’t do anything together (socially). But how can we do things together when I need time to be me and I get so very little time when I’m not under pressure from the world around me to conform to their idea of normal? 

So, life is difficult, our relationship, no matter how hard Teresa tries (and she does try very hard) and how many times she gets it right, will always hit a brick wall when I am too tired or too stressed to do the translation, to fill the gap between what she can and can’t do. 

So, what is the lesson here? 

  1. I am autistic, I will persist no matter the human consequences (to me or anyone else) to resolve what I need to be resolved 
  1. What matters to me, matters to me, it’s not a minor thing, it’s a life and death thing, it’s the end of the world. If I could have reduced it to ’no problem’ I would have done. When I can’t it is important, however trivial it may seem to others 
  1. Teresa is an NT which means, 1) and 2) do not make any sense to her and yet she still tries, I have no idea why she perseveres and love her for that persistence. 

Teresa often comments about justoposition (that should probably be juxtaposition ????) in these letters yet, for me, I’m finished with the first part of this letter and moving on to the next which is just as important to me, even if it may seem trivial to you in comparison to what preceded it! 

So, here I am and whilst you will have no idea, I am writing in my notebook. Why? Life is much easier starting from an electronic version of these letters rather than transcribing from a handwritten version – that’s a difficult, time consuming task.  

So, why am I doing it this way? Because writing on a keyboard in the North just wasn’t working for me, I found it very difficult to focus. 

This (writing in a book) is what I did when I started writing over here 5 years or so ago and I wondered whether going back to the old way, despite the disadvantages, would help. So far, yes, however the proof of the pudding is how easily I handle the transcription process! 

Update 

Following on from the first part of this letter, during the following week Teresa has ordered a carpet for our annexe. In my past experience (over 20 years ago) I have always had carpets treated to reduce stains (Scotchguard?), so I said that was what we needed. Apparently, things have moved on and it’s no longer done. At first Teresa just accepted this but on reflection, she returned to the shop to ask for more information and was all primed to discuss it with me in the evening. As soon as she told me it was no longer needed, my reaction was ’ok’ and that was that. It was a non-issue for me, I didn’t need any more details. 

The next morning as I drove in to work I realised that Teresa might have been confused by my apparent dismissal of her efforts (to get more information), particularly in the aftermath of the ‘oil’, and so I sent her an email, quoted verbatim here:  

I may not have shown any appreciation for your extra checking on “Scotchguard“, however: 

  1. Why would I, that was “normal” behaviour for me and hence, “shrugs shoulders”, why wouldn’t you do that checking. 
  2.  I process slowly but I do (now) realise it might have felt unappreciated, it wasn’t. 
  3. I accepted the no Scotchguard so quickly because I do that, I can “spin on a sixpence” sometimes, again it did not indicate that what you did was wrong! 

 p.s. wrong in this context includes “misjudgement”, i.e. just because I accepted no Scotchguard didn’t mean your judgement to go back and find out more was wrong, quite the opposite. 

 That is, use of the word “wrong” is really just a placeholder for something that isn’t 100% correct, that is 

  •  100% correct = right 
  • 99% correct = wrong 
  • 0% correct = wrong 

 It is just, that is how I translate the concept (0-100%) into words (right/wrong), language for 1-99% is not “precise” and hence not available to me to use because I need precise language even for imprecise concepts.  

 The concept in question will often be imprecise in my head but the language I can select to describe the concept must be precise. Ditto the language used to explain the concept to me must also be precise. 

 Using precise language to describe an imprecise concept requires the use of multiple examples which is why I will often explain in many ways and ask for multiple explanations even though both sets of explanations appear to be indistinguishable.  

 The important thing is that a lot happens in that space between 1% and 99% happens for me too, it’s a language problem – you have loads of language to cover that range I have none and the word I use for 0% is my default word for that 1%-99% and hence our difficulty. 

Postscript 

I added that last section to highlight the fact that I get how difficult it is to understand why I react the ways I do, why, for me: 

  • you get it completely right, in which case there is no credit, because why should I compliment you on the fact that you are breathing! 

Or 

  • You don’t get it completely right, in which case it’s a total disaster and you are a terrible person (at least it will seem like I think that) 

Ignored if you get it right and condemned if you make the slightest mistake! 

Who would live with an autistic who treats them so badly? 

I do sometimes wonder and indeed say that to Teresa. On the other hand, I would also say: 

Who would live with an NT who so totally ignores who you are and demands you behave in ways that are totally alien. Surprisingly Teresa doesn’t tend to ask me that question 🙂 . Oh, and if you think that statement is a dig at Teresa then you need to go back to the beginning of this letter and start again, it isn’t 🙂 

Of course, the reality is that there is good and bad on both sides and on balance I’d rather be with her than without. She would call that ‘damning with faint praise’, I call it a massive complement. 

This letter has taken six weeks of editing, when I said “this was not an easy letter to write”, as usual I didn’t mean ‘a bit difficult’, things are rarely ‘a bit’ anything with me 🙂 .

The Bean, The North Fri 8-Sep-2017 

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