My recent endeavors: Aspie Cat, National Autistic Society interview, and the Thoughty Auti podcast

Over the past few months, I have taken my autism themed work beyond my blog, and I thought I would share my experiences with my latest endeavors on here. Starting with:

Aspie Cat

I have often compared my autistic struggles with certain cat traits. Things like touch sensitivity, stereotypes about being unfeeling, etc. Then last summer, the idea suddenly came to me: why not portray this in a series of comic style drawings? I drafted a cover page during autumn, and started drawing in earnest in November. Before I knew it, these cartoon shorts became part of a story. Which I am hoping to turn into a graphic novel.

As a child, I loved making up animal stories and spending hours drawing them. You could say I’ve fallen back on an old hobby. The scenes I portray are based on real life issues that I want people to understand better. At the same time, I like to inject a bit of humour into them, because there are some situations you have to laugh at.

National Autistic Society interview

Over the years, my family and I have been following the National Autistic Society. A few months ago, my stepdad contacted them to promote my blog. Long story short, he put them in touch with me, and in February I was interviewed via email for Stories on the Spectrum!

Stories on the Spectrum is a section on the NAS website that features interviews with autistic people from all walks of life. I’m pretty sure that had it been a face-to-face interview, my brain would have frozen and I would have forgotten every relevant part of my life story. As it was, I spent over an hour rapidly handwriting notes until my hand ached. Four journal pages and a long email later, I was satisfied.

The publication date in April initially seemed like ages away. Given that the pandemic, lockdown, and my hasty move back into my parents’ house happened shortly afterwards, in hindsight it felt like another lifetime away. But hey, I’m proud to have made it on there! I talked about my childhood, my experiences at church, and the assumptions I have dealt with about my race and my autism. Go to the link below and have a read!

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about real life autistic experiences, then browsing through other interviews is a must!

My interview: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/stories/grace-liu.aspx

Thoughty Auti podcast

And finally, I had the honour of featuring on the Thoughty Auti podcast. It is a podcast that covers topics relating to autism and mental health, and is run by Thomas Henley, YouTuber at Aspergers Growth. And my episode was released yesterday!

Back in May, we planned to talk about the impact of early life changes (e.g. moving countries) and my struggles with being biracial and autistic. At first I was so nervous I was digging my nails into my arms without noticing, but Thomas was super easy to talk to, and we actually had a fair few laughs! I did have a classic autistic moment at the end where he said goodbye to the audience and I had no idea he was expecting me to do the same, but that got removed.

So if you want to know about racist schoolboys, being outnumbered by white neurotypicals, and how Thomas and I went off on a tangent about cheese, here it is (you can also find it on YouTube and Apple):

NB: to anyone who’s listened to it, I didn’t think to ask Mum if I’ve ever counted as an immigrant until too late (I haven’t).

Like an animal in a zoo

Recently, my parents were clearing out the study when they unearthed several files of my old school reports, autism related reports, and other such documents, not for the first time. I thought it would be worth holding onto them for any autism books I might write, and with that in mind, I had a look through them.

One thing that strikes me whenever I read these is how I’ve spent my whole life – but especially my school years – feeling like a bit of a spectacle. Being biracial made me stand out enough from day one (literally – the Taiwanese hospital staff were apparently desperate to watch mainly for this reason). But no, that was just the beginning.

Nine years later, from the moment I was given an Asperger’s diagnosis, I spent the nine years after that moment constantly being observed, reviewed, and corrected. Endless letters and reports between my parents and school staff. People of all ages not knowing how to talk to me. Kids thinking I was weird or boring. The frustration of feeling like I couldn’t do anything without being corrected, patronised, or mocked. I felt like a zoo animal, constantly being watched. And it was all these oh-so-happy memories that inspired me to write the following (now carefully edited) journal entry:

I start off small and unaware of my surroundings and the people watching me. If anyone interacts with me in a way I don’t like, I don’t dwell on their behaviour or intentions for long. This is just how the world works.

But as I grow older, smarter, and more desperate for freedom, I start noticing how quick people are to correct my behaviour for reasons that seem illogical to me. I feel increasingly restricted. Children stare at me. Some laugh, some walk on by. Some ask questions about my behaviour. Some are friendly. Some try to talk to me but don’t know how. Why is it so hard?

Adults watch me closely. Some make notes. Some talk about my every move as if it’s completely alien to them. Some talk about things they think I should be learning, things that feel unnatural to me. Some talk to me with that tone people used when I was little. Some offer praise and encouragement when I behave in a way they approve of, others get impatient when I don’t. I barely keep up with whatever it is people expect of me, the pressure of it weighing me down, pounding in my head, twisting in my stomach. Those who care about me fight for a good future for me, but for now I have to patiently wait for that future to happen. The most restricting thing for me is how isolated I feel, watching people not know how to react to me, and then moving on with their lives together, while I’m on my own, wondering if I’ll ever be allowed to just…be.

 

Social gatherings and my internal monologue

I have a love-hate relationship with social gatherings. I have attended various ones in my life, and how much I enjoy them depends on a few things. Firstly, is there anyone going who I know well? Not someone I’ve been in the same room as before. Nor someone who recognises me who I don’t recognise back. Someone I actually feel comfortable socialising with. Secondly, do I have the mental capacity for being surrounded by people right now?

One of the things I and many autistic people struggle with is sensory overload. How can you focus with so much background noise? And reading other people. At gatherings, people stand around in groups, then shift from one to another, while I’m lingering in the background having no idea what to do. Should I go and talk to that person? How do I join in the conversation? What do I say? Then, for good measure, I might casually wander over to a group of people, wait for a pause in their conversation, only to awkwardly fade into the background again when it never comes.

I’m not much better when people come and talk to me, either. I know how to make small talk, but when I’m tired, stressed, or distracted by my surroundings, I can barely muster it up. Even when people I know talk to me, I sometimes find struggle to filter out everything else I can see and hear. It’s not that I’m not listening – I may well be hearing them loud and clear. It’s just that I can hear too many other things loud and clear as well.

If I had an internal monologue in situations like that, it would go something like this (complete with fictional names):

And it’s time to mingle again…should I talk to someone?…I can hear Emma and Jack talking behind me about work…I’d forgotten about her new job…wait, is that cake over there?…why do children have to scream so much?…definitely cake, yay!…OH MY GOSH someone just tapped me on the shoulder…she’s trying to talk to me…no, no, it’s ok, I’m fine thanks…that was so awkward, why do neurotypicals always have to touch me…kids, please shut up for a moment…was I weird? Annoying? Unfriendly?…should I try and catch Jane before she leaves?…oh wait, Sam is coming to chat to me…must make eye contact, but not too much…hmm, it sounds like he’s had a tough week…again with the yelling, children?…now people behind me are having a loud conversation, I can’t focus…what are they laughing at?…and I’ve lost my train of thought again… 

See what I mean? It’s draining. When you look at it like that, it’s no surprise that social gatherings can get a bit much. I’m autistic, and an introvert, and need my space. And yet I like to be included and to have friends. So how do I compromise? We all have our strategies, but for me, these three points are key:

  1. Gather the facts about any social gathering you might be attending, so you know what to expect. How long will it go on for? Who’s likely to be there? What’s going to happen? As obsessive as this might sound, I really need to form a mental picture in my head of what to expect.
  2. Don’t be ashamed of being socially awkward. If I have friends or family with me, they’re not going to care. Even if not, these things are draining enough without me beating myself up internally the whole time.
  3. Take some time alone afterwards. Whether you’re autistic, or just very introverted, the only way you can present at your best in these situations is by recharging your brain afterwards.

When I was 19

Guest article on depression by one of my closest friends:

‘When I was 19 years old, I made a friend called Kevin.

We first met as I was walking home. He called my name, a curious voice amongst the grey surroundings. When I turned, he made no move, but stood observing a little distance away.

He returned a few days later. This time there was a knock at the door, a light tapping that only I could hear. But there were no introductions. We spent the day sitting together in my living room, peacefully occupied with our own thoughts.

Our acquaintance continued for several weeks. We got to know each other: he learnt about my friends and family; I learnt that he disliked leaving my side.

It was curious how my friends never spoke to him. They noted his presence; I saw them watch him from afar. They asked after me, and still made plans. And although Kevin was never invited, he was always there, at every event and every party. As time passed he was with me more often than not – a distraction from priorities, who took me away from my friends to sit with him alone.

He showed me an island of his, a small, vicious crag of rock isolated by roaring wind and towering sea. We went for day trips, some sick lovers’ retreat; he revelled in the lonely violence of the place. He took me more and more, and it wasn’t until I looked up and saw my friends waving to me from the shore that I realised I had not returned for weeks. And even as I begged, he would not let me leave.

The mainland looked so beautiful from the island; I ached to go home. I recalled the sunlit meadows, misted forests, still water beneath a sky on fire. But as time went on, the memories dwindled. I could see the sun rising above the clifftops, but could not remember how it felt to sit beneath its rays. I could see the wind breathing across the grasslands, but could not remember how it felt across my face. Worst of all, I could see my friends waving, but could not remember how to wave back.

Time passed. I stopped living and simply existed. Kevin was always by my side; he didn’t leave once. We barely spoke. It’s no wonder he became bored of my presence, searching for more ways to entertain.

There are several ways of causing hurt; he used all of them.

I never really considered that I would ever hate to live. Now, my old life on the island was what filled my dreams. I wouldn’t have to go home; I wouldn’t have to see my friends. I could stay, on the island, with him forever. If only he would stop, I would gladly give up everything. Sleep only delayed the pain; and eventually every breath was sharp and every thought was scarred.

I thought that if I hurt myself, he would leave me alone. He was willing to wait. But even this caused a greater sorrow, spiralling like electricity across the mainland. A web of pain was forming, glowing nodes of orange, pulsing light surrounding me, my house, my friends’ houses. Every muscle I moved sent ripples far and wide.

Things had reached a climax when one day, I realised that Kevin was not directly by my side. A few days later, we were again apart. And a few days after that, and after that – and one day I felt a touch of warmth flit across my face; I turned and saw the island across the water.

Nowadays, I hardly see him. We meet occasionally as the months pass by, as I wander through a life worth living; and the clouds are sparse beneath the glorious sunshine.’

 

I remember…

Among writers, it is a pretty well known fact that one of the best ways to beat writer’s block is by doing a writing prompt. You know, a little exercise that gets you writing about something. Anything. So tell me this: how is it that, while writing this post, I spend about an hour deciding how best to write the beginning?

Well, enough of that, and on to a simple exercise I learned during my first year at uni. If you’re trying to get your writing brain in gear, or even just bored, set yourself a time limit and begin with:

I remember…

Having a boy at secondary school call me a “ch*nky”, most likely to impress his mates. I don’t know if he was hoping to get lucky, but strangely, I don’t find casual racism to be much of a turn on.

Not understanding why Mum was being so violently sick in the months before my sister was born.

My grandparents’ cats coming back from the vet and me not knowing why the female was shaved on one side and the male under his tail.

Visiting the Nottingham Christmas Market with my secondary school as a reward for good behaviour, and one of the boys getting caught shoplifting.

Calling potato wedges “wedgies”.

My thirteenth birthday party, in which I must have eaten a ton of chocolate, party food, pancakes and birthday cake. Not surprisingly, the party ended with me feeling a little peaky.

And this was before the food hangover…

Going to my Friday night Year 10+ youth club, and the evening coming to an unceremonious halt when a boy’s arm went straight through a window. His arm was shredded and spurting blood, and he was definitely crying.

Overhearing him at school some time later bragging to other kids about how it was just a scratch and how he’d laughed throughout the whole thing.

Recovering from the trauma of my (then five year old) sister being rushed to hospital with a broken arm when I realised I could watch any video I wanted without negotiation.

Saying goodbye to Mum after hers and my stepdad’s wedding reception, and trying not to show how much I was going to miss her.

Mum and I moving from Taiwan to England when I was just four, and not understanding how final this was after so many holidays with my (English) grandparents.

That “first day of school” feeling on my first day at university.

Learning about the Black Death at school and being afraid to sleep with my lamp off that night.

The first time I had pizza when I was little, and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

 

So there you go. Besides getting you writing, this is also a pretty entertaining group activity. Just get your heads down, write down as many random memories as possible, and exchange. How weird does it get? Why not have a go and get back to me?

 

 

An impossible task?

After a good, stressful, productive, or just a little crazy, three years, I have recently finished uni for good. I was never going to be a huge fan of that perfectly reasonable question “So, what are you going to do now?”. Now I may be allergic to it. Including when the person asking is myself. Symptoms: high heart rate, nervous twitch, sweat breakout. To save the breath of anyone asking, I wish I knew.

Besides applying for part-time jobs, worrying about the future and playing Sims 3, I have been working on a little something to get me thinking about my goals for my life, for this summer, for this week, whatever. Voilà, one vision board!

board

And it’s so simple, yet fun, to decorate. Lists, mindmaps, stickers, favourite song lyrics, and a good dose of motivational quotes. Starting with this gem from a childhood book of mine*:

“The way to deal with an impossible task is to break it down into a number of merely very difficult tasks, and break each one of them into a group of horribly hard tasks, and each one of them into tricky jobs…” – Terry Pratchett, Truckers – p153.

Straightforward, yet sums up my plans for the future in just one sentence. Become a well known, if not famous, author? Impossible. Start a YouTube channel and make videos about living with Asperger’s? Impossible. Find a place of my own? Go travelling? Start a training school for Guide Cats for the Autistic? So what if the last one actually is impossible in my lifetime. You get the picture.

Half the trick is knowing the answers to the following questions. What do you want to achieve? How do you work best? What drives you? Simple, easily asked questions. Bordering on clichéd territory and yet could impact our view on our life if we really gave them some proper thought. Let’s break it down. What sort of things inspire you? Music, deep conversations with friends, correcting injustice, getting closer to achieving my goals, in my case.

Think about that thing in life you really want to do. Does it motivate you? Worry you? We’ve already ascertained becoming an author, for example, is impossible. Right? But brainstorming ideas for fiction or non fiction material isn’t impossible. Writing short pieces of prose isn’t impossible. Creating a detailed, cohesive synopsis? Tricky, but doable. Researching publishers with requirements that fit your agenda, then editing over and over until someone accepts your work?

Just be persistent. Some things are impossible. But unless your goals include flying, immortality, mass destruction, or turning everything into chocolate, don’t make them so by not even trying. Note to self.

 

Novel preview in progress – or how not to help an Aspie

Nearly seven months ago, my course mates and I were at the beginning of the end. Several essays, one booklet, two group projects and four presentations later, and we are facing the final curtain. Of university. With one more week until the final deadline, I am about to finish writing my dissertation* – a few extracts of a novel that I had been planning for years now. Presenting the first preview of…When You’re Strange.

The story mainly focuses on 16 year old Eleanor and her struggles with secondary school and parents who can’t agree on a possible diagnosis. Some of it is inspired by my real life experiences, some is supposed to portray humourous insights about people and inspiration for kids on the spectrum. So, how many of these failed attempts at understanding autism have you heard?

Extract 5

‘Excuse me, sir?’ Mr Adams?’ Eleanor asked, before she could stop herself.
Mr Adams paused, still facing the staff room, and looked over his shoulder at her. ‘Yes, Eleanor?’
‘I, um, I’m sorry about the other week…in PE…’ she faltered. Why did this have to be so hard? She didn’t even know what to apologise for!
‘It wasn’t a hard game.’
Eleanor took a deep breath, trying to remember what it said in the leaflet about explaining to other people. Say it like it is.
‘I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which means I have trouble with reading people and physical co-ordination,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ Mr Adams looked down. ‘I’m…sorry.’
‘Why?’
‘Never mind. It’s ok. I had an Asperger student a few years ago.’ He paused. ‘But everybody’s clumsy or awkward sometimes. We can’t make allowances for anyone having an off day. Do you understand?’
Eleanor shrugged. Not really.
Mr Adams went on. ‘Besides, although you made a few errors, I didn’t see you struggling too much. But if you ever need extra help, just let me know.’
‘Ok.’ She looked at the floor. Had he understood?

 

Most students I have known feel like they can’t be free of their dissertation soon enough. If anything, if I want to turn this into a proper book, I could be spending many more years on it. But if I can get it published, it will be one goal crossed off my bucket list. I’m glad I chose to go to uni, and I don’t regret it for a minute. It has pushed me one step further along my chosen path, and on the day I see my name on the front of a book, it will all have been worth it.

And on that note, happy Autism Awareness Month!

 

 

*Known as a Portfolio, in Creative Writing speak. But would you have understood what I meant if I had used that word instead?

BANANAS – what’s the apPEEL?

NB – I applied for what claimed to be a working-from-home blogging job with Chamsima International, a company that raises awareness for hair loss. They asked me to write a sample post about bananas. When my parents and I asked them when I would officially start, could I use a separate blog and, most importantly, about details of payment, they went strangely quiet. Such is life. – 15.11.2015

It’s soft. It’s sweet. It’s a widely accepted superfood. It’s…the humble banana.

20150730_145839

Super? Can a banana do anything more super than develop age spots? Most people do that sooner or later. Don’t take the banana for granted. Before you next reach for a glossy yellow portion of your five-a-day, take a bite of this bunch of benefits.

Health benefits

You may have heard the age-old fact that bananas are high in potassium. But did you know that they specifically contain Potassium-40 – a radioactive isotope of potassium?(1) Besides radioactivity, all that potassium means that eating bananas fights the risk of strokes, unhealthy blood pressure, kidney stones and even early death.(2) Already feeling less complacent?

Cooking

What can you do with an old banana sitting in a fruit bowl going brown? Make banana bread. Mash with yoghurt for a nutritious breakfast.(3) Mix with eggs and make banana pancakes – potassium AND protein. Blend with other fruits for a smoothie or milkshake. Cut, blitz and freeze, and hey presto, you have healthy ice cream.(4) Or just take a photo of it for a blog post…

Cosmetics

As well as potassium, which we’ve already established, bananas are rich in vitamins and minerals that are great for skin and hair. Vitamins C and B6 and manganese help revitalise skin,(5) while the above vitamins plus vitamins A and E, iron and zinc can revive dead hair.(6) Unsurprisingly, they are one of the most popular all-natural ingredients for face masks, hair products and lip scrubs. Neat, eh?

Practical jokes

When I was little and my sister was just a toddler, our mum was unexpectedly rushed to hospital, leaving us in the capable hands of our Grandad. Being the caring older relative he is, he wanted to lighten the situation for us. And so it was that, out of all the bananas he offered my sister that morning, she chose the biggest, shiniest, most perfect of the bunch…before realising it was made of plastic.

Which fruit could have such influence on so many areas of life? What kind of food could have so much power in just one serving? In the words of Gwen Stefani: This is bananas – B A N A N A S!(7)

So there you go. Have a great day and enjoy a banana. But not a plastic one (not so great for the digestive system).

 

 

(1) http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/09/15-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-bananas/

(2) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287212.php

(3) Sam Stern’s Cooking Up a Storm – Sam Stern (p.g. 17)

(4) how-to-make-creamy-ice-cream-with-just-one-ingredient-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-93414

(5) http://www.sheknows.com/beauty-and-style/articles/954609/how-to-clean-your-complexion-for-spring

(6) http://www.top10homeremedies.com/diy-homemade/diy-homemade-banana-deep-hair-conditioner.html

(7) http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/gwenstefani/hollabackgirl.html

Monologue and interactive story aka Operation Ethanol

Good evening and excuse the slight decrease in recent posts! I really do want to blog more regularly, but sadly, coursework calls. In the meantime, talking of coursework, here are two examples. The first is a monologue I wrote that I later had to stretch (3,000 words!). The second is an interactive story in the link below. Enjoy:

Monologue

It looks like it’s going to be a good morning. See the sun out there? I love it when it’s like this. All calm and quiet. You see those red tulips out there in the back garden? I’ve been tending to them every morning since I got back and it’s really paying off. Anyway, I’d better put on my Classical CD. That’s another part of my therapy programme.

That’s it, nothing like a bit of Beethoven to keep the mind still. Especially when everything’s quiet. Harold went off earlier. He said he was going to work. He says that most mornings. I’ve just got to keep trusting that he’ll come back when he says, that he isn’t…no, I trust Harold. He’ll come back from…wherever it is. Where is it he goes every morning? Ah yes. Work.

I don’t like the tone of that music. It’s too loud. It’ll make them come back again. I know it. I have to – I can’t remember. No, wait, I think it’s something to do with those capsules by the CD player, and the water, and the words…’Lorraine, remember to take your meds’

Lorraine, remember to take your meds…Lorraine, remember the meds…Lorraine, you have to take…Lorraine, DON’T TAKE THEM!

They’re coming. No I won’t listen, I know the steps: relax, focus on what is real. What is real, what is real, what is real?! I don’t know anymore!

I am home, I am safe. I will recover. That is real.

But is it? I don’t know.

Of course you don’t know, you’re useless, stupid…The music, focus on it. It hurts my ears. Why do I listen to it? He bought it for me, on our…he bought it…no, he didn’t buy it to hurt my ears. He didn’t, why would he – but then why would he leave you alone every day with just me for company – shut out that light and you’ll be safe –

Those flowers – they’re covered with blood. It’s a sign, why did I plant them? Close the curtains!

Why? Because you’re weak, you believe everything they tell you at that sick place. You’re sick, you’re weak, it was all a trap but you’re too scared to even –

I’m doing it! Have to get that glass…

You’ll choke, just like the weak, sick, pathetic piece of…

Am I choking? I can breathe, I can breathe. Will I live? Where are they? Where are…who?

Excuse me for a second, just lost my train of thought. Hang on, the music’s gone quiet, I’ll turn it back up. Damn, I haven’t even thought to look at the garden today. I’d better take a look, ah that’s better, let some light into the house before I water the tulips.

Interactive story – Operation Ethanol

https://sites.google.com/site/gracedmu2014/home

Christmas Special blog part 1: You know you’re in a Christmas Special when…

1) It’s probably snowing.

2) No matter how significant recent events have been, they will have little to no impact on Christmas…

3)…but chances are if anything significant does happen, this episode may only be available once a year at best, so people will probably miss it anyway.

4) You may get visited by three ghosts – you probably aren’t alone in this, don’t worry.

5) Maybe another profound/cheesy event will happen instead that will make you realise the true meaning of Christmas.

6) You’re really not doing anything that different to normal – you’re just doing it with a festive twist.

7) If your story goes on YouTube, you can be sure the comments thread will be in a state of war over religion, most loved and hated characters and internet trolls.

8) But hey, in the words of Cliff Richard, Christmas is a time for forgiving and for forgetting!

I know I haven’t stuck to this month’s theme of poetry for this “Christmas Special” blog. I’m basically adhering to my second point. In my last Creative Writing lecture, we were given the end-of-term festive activity of writing our own Christmas-themed Buzzfeed article. See the above points.

People say that the first month living away from home are the hardest. If anything, it’s been harder more recently. Until I came home, I was snowed under by coursework, catching more colds than I usually catch in a year and annoying Hannah by worrying that I annoy her. Not fun.

But hey ho, advent in the flat has had its good points. We danced (and ate) the night away at the Leicester City Vineyard Church Winter Ball. On a Navigators trip to Lazer Quest I did the group proud by coming second to last in the first game and last in the second. I even sang in the church choir at the LCV Carol Service. Or rather, I exhausted my vocal chords and stood out like a sore thumb because no-one told me I had to wear black. Fun and festive times!

Overall I’ve really needed a fun and relaxing Christmas, and I definitely got one. I put up and decorated two Christmas trees, decorated three cakes, made marzipan fruits and made tomato soup for our Christmas lunch starter. Every time I’ve come home this term, our house somehow feels abundant with food compared with the flat. I’d also missed the cats, Tango and Bouncer. They made up for lost time by sharing my bed and walking all over me at night.

Christmas would be better if I wasn’t fighting this virus my sister has, but hopefully it’s just a sore throat. Although that is what I kept saying when Hannah was sure I was catching something from her… That aside, I am now loaded with presents, food, chocolate and my parents’ “special” jokes. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way really. But sshhh, don’t tell them. Perhaps, most importantly, now is a good time to put what I wrote about faith into practice. As good a time as any, indeed.

To wrap up, I thought I’d do a part 2 to this blog tomorrow and post an unpublished Demon article I wrote about Christmas and autism. Happy reading! Meanwhile, for those who have never seen one before, here is an advent calendar made of cake: