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This is the first story I wrote for my writing tutor in October 2009. I hadn’t written since school but found myself longing to write again after my father died and I needed time alone in other worlds. I’ll never know whether it was his death that inspired my writing or my starting to write but looking back it feels like it was a catalyst. And having the discipline of a course to follow was just the boost I needed. I was inspired to dig out this particular story this week when a friend shared a photo of a sculpture by Penny Hardy. I’ve asked permission and Penny has kindly allowed me to use this photo here. Many thanks to her. I’ll put some links below for further interest.

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy


Eddie sighed, feeling old, as if retiring from his job at the rail company was another nail in the coffin. He felt silly and uncomfortable wandering around a scrapyard, looking for goodness-knows-what amongst the rust and mechanical miscellany. Still, he had to prove Jan’s friends wrong – he wouldn’t be ‘getting under her feet’. So phase one of clearing his allotment was making the shed a useable space.

He’d noticed other allotment holders had chairs and tables and radios amongst the pots on their shelves. He thought he should probably have the same and that the scrapyard would be the place to look for some of these things.

Staring at the sharp, unidentifiable rust shapes and contorted bicycle jungle he scratched his head. It occurred to him that he was probably looking in the wrong place; what he was after wouldn’t be left outside in all weathers. But he continued staring up, impressed by how beautiful orange rust looked against an intensely blue summer sky.

And that’s when he noticed a hand. A metal claw of a hand, an accidental shape created by broken and twisted bicycle spokes. The hand was reaching up out of the wreck into the sky, reaching out for help. A cold bullet of shock and sadness torpedoed through his body and his memory tried to reload images from his past. He blinked them away turning towards the small office at the entrance where he would ask for help.

Under a shelter behind the office was a collection of old school desks. He ran his hand along one, feeling the varnish and remembering his own school days. This would be perfect; great for storing his sandwiches. He wouldn’t even have to go home for lunch. Eddie found a deck chair and an old radio and took them and the desk to his car then turned back for one more look. The spokes no longer looked like a hand at this angle – just a twisted mass of wiry metal. He found himself compelled to walk back to where he’d previously stood, so that he could recreate the illusion.
How wonderful that something so useless could conjure up such a powerful image:
A human shape created from junk.

And then he was in amongst the rust and spikes, pulling. Pulling out whatever he could find that was bendable, shapable. A powerful urge to have that feeling again was taking over. He could do this himself. Something that looked like old bicycle spokes could also look like a hand, so why not arms? legs? a head? He took to his car anything vaguely malleable, staining his clothes with rust and cutting his hands, until there was no room left in the car. He would come back.

‘You’re quiet this evening’ said Jan after dinner. ‘What’s going on in that head of yours?’
‘Nothing’ replied Eddie, visualising his hoard in the shed and imagining it taking shape already. He would start with the first: Hayley, the manic depressive who had leapt in front of his train in 1970. Then Mikey, the lad who ran after his ball onto the track in 1978. He would make 7 metal sculptures in all and stand them on his plot with a view of the valley and tell them all how sorry he was and how he would carry their deaths around with him for the rest of his life.

It was three months before Jan became curious. She had continued to keep the house as neat as ever, had seen her friends as much as before and was beginning to notice that Eddie’s retirement had made little difference to their marriage after all. In fact she was feeling rather neglected.

‘It was terrible’ she heard him say as she entered the shed ‘Your poor wife, John. I read all about her in the paper. Right, you can keep an eye on Mikey, while I start Gareth. At this rate I’ll have you all together by Christmas’
As he turned to move sculpture number three next to the first two he caught sight of his wife. She wasn’t moving, her face was pale, and tears flooded her eyes.
Eddie stepped forward and Jan dropped her head onto his shoulder. With their arms still by their sides, they both trembled with the release of many years’ pent up emotion and tears.
‘You don’t forget’ whispered Eddie to the top of her head. ‘How can you forget what you’ve done to people?’ He raised his head, guided Jan into his deckchair and leant himself against the school desk looking down at her, eyes feverish. ‘I read about them all afterwards. I didn’t want you to know how bad it was.’

Jan reached up and took Eddie’s hand ‘Tell me now. Tell me everything.’


Many thanks to Penny for allowing her photo to be used.
Penny Hardy has a website here
and a facebook page here:

(I’ve noticed WordPress has just congratulated me on my blog anniversary. It’s 6 years old today so that was nice timing.)

Practice Makes Low-functioning

shutterstock_25179976There’s a common belief that encouraging people to do things they are uncomfortable with or afraid of will eventually make those situations more comfortable and help them do them more willingly in the future. There’s a common belief that autistic people are incapable, flawed and afraid, and can be taught to function better, to be more outgoing, and perhaps to enjoy life as others believe life is to be lived and enjoyed, and that the way for autistics to get more out of life therefore is to repeatedly get them stepping out of their comfort zones.

After a lifetime of trying them out, I can say that, for me, these theories are bullshit and damaging. Furthermore, it’s ableist to apply standardised ideas of a well-functioning existence so generally.

The problem with this theory of pushing, of “facing fears” and of introducing repetition to familiarise a situation to me is simple: It’s often not that I am frightened, it’s often not that I am unfamiliar with a situation, nor that I am inexperienced; I am usually very well aware of what a situation will entail, I am competent at most tasks and situations, and I am very often not nervous but I am in fact burnt out when I am being expected to push myself further. And as the years go by and the number of times I have pushed myself beyond the natural grows, the burn out gets worse. Nothing gets better. If anything, I would say that after years of acting and getting that performance just right I am actually regressing now.

I simply don’t want to do things because I am empty.
And repeating things that push me out of my comfort zone doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t educate me in the ways of a better life, it doesn’t enrich me, it doesn’t build my confidence either. The one-size-fits-all Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I began a couple of years ago wanted me to deal with everything that made me anxious so I could be less anxious and get on with my life, but I’m so very tired of that deal with it approach.
I don’t ever step back after an event and say ‘I’m so glad you pushed me to do that, thank you.’ Never. I mean never ever. I simply don’t say it and I never feel grateful. Because what this behaviour actually does to me is chip away at me. It wears me down, steals my resolve, and leaves me struggling to recover. It really is quite ridiculous to force a person to do things they are not happy doing. If I want to sit in a corner and not stand in the middle of a room chatting, let me sit in a corner. I’ve figured out after 45 years that it’s preferable for me.

I’m clever, I’m able; I can pretty much do most things. I’m one of those invisible, autistic women who look and sound normal. But I am not normal. I have limits.

I have a natural, inbuilt need to socialise less, to regress into myself more, to make my own rules, have my own timings, make my own challenges and to wander off on my own at times. This natural version of me is not allowed to show through enough though, and I’m out of my comfort zone pretty much every day while others satisfy themselves that I’m leading a pleasant, functional life – I am described/diagnosed/labelled as “high-functioning” after all.

I was a child once. I made myself fit. When I saw that any of my behaviours risked making me look quirky or abnormal, I suppressed that behaviour. I made myself a thoroughly respectable version of a highly functioning individual. Only I didn’t realise what the long-term and ongoing effects of years of pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone would be.

We autistics have our own ideas of functional and functioning well. And they are not the same.
Functioning well for me means feeling sane, feeling happy, feeling a sense of achievement – and one that I have judged as an achievement not someone else. It means having a quirky routine, an empty social diary (whatever one of those is), feeling a sense of control over myself, and at times feeling led by imagination and the paths of thought that lay themselves out before me rather than being led by a clock. For me a “full life” in conventional terms sounds like hell. And I can tell you it feels like hell too.

When you see someone who is autistic performing well, functioning highly – acting just like a non-autistic person, ask yourself how hard they had to work to get that performance just right for everyone else, ask yourself just whose idea of high-functioning you are using here because there’s a good chance it’s all fake and they can’t wait to get home and throw off the pretence.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could stop trying so hard to not be ourselves…?

Quiet War, Inner Noise

I’m a fighter.
I fight bloody hard every day.
I’m very good at it.
I’m so good at it you mostly can’t see the joins.

It’s hard work but it’s worth it; the people I love are worth fighting for. I arm myself each day for what is to come and I refuse to be defeated.

I do need to recharge though or the seams occasionally begin to show and my stuffing pokes out, and I don’t need you to see inside me unless you want to. I don’t impose my inner self on others unless they choose to see it. You will see the result of the fight and not the war; I try to give you the peace beyond the battle ground.

I can stop fighting and stop trying and be just me for my sake but I don’t want special treatment, odd looks, different types of relationship because of my fight. I want to blend, appease, fix, help and partake. I want what the fighting brings me. It’s all so worth it. It’s all so bloody worth it.

Most of it.

Things that break into my recuperation are often one battle too far. Those interruptions are the deepest cuts to bear. I have my limits despite my determination. Whenever I am reminded that my fights are not always appreciated and blending isn’t always possible, I hurt so much. When you are carrying out “normal” and “ordinary” from a toolkit containing a different set of tools, you need to try harder to make them work. But I’m used to it. Literally and metaphorically I have always been the type to use what I have and not complain that I don’t have the right tools.

You don’t need to know about this if you don’t want to. I’m used to this hairbrush-instead-of-a-hammer life. And I know it’s a bit difficult to think how different it can be.

I know deep down I’m doing my best, like now: I’m drying my tears, shoving my stuffing back in and soldiering on.

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