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.’

 

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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?

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:

What faith means to me

An excuse to justify

Irrationality

An invisible man in the sky

Or just stupidity?

A delusion of the people

Based on legends of the past

In an uncertain present

That’s what faith is said to be.

A turning point in life

For sufferers to see

A comfort and a guide

If belief feels easy

Set apart from the rest

Who are easy to reproach

In a crowded church with no regrets

That’s what faith seems to be.

Endless time in reflection

To learn how to feel free

A tendency to question

The things I cannot see

A chance to learn to live and love

Not just to love to live

A far off answer I’ve yet to learn

That’s what faith means to me.

It’s nearly Christmas. An occasion famous for putting aside our differences and just sharing peace and goodwill all round. And yet, when I came across this article on Facebook http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandan-robertson/4-teachings-of-jesus-that_b_6343320.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051, I immediately groaned inwardly. Did I think the article was the stupidest thing ever written? No. Was I anticipating what the comments section was going to look like?

Sadly yes. You know you’re living in the Digital Age when you feel surrounded by online media. And you know you’re surrounded by online media when there is a religion/politics/latest trends/goodness-knows-what based argument wherever you look. Atheists assuming that all Christians are prejudiced, self-righteous bigots? From what I’ve noticed, the more passionately atheists project this label, the less they appear to look at their own words before inflicting them on others. A minority of loud voiced Christians who do nothing to prove this label wrong? Unfortunately, and I’m not proud of this, that is one of the things that causes me to struggle with faith.

I know I’m not perfect, and especially not when it comes to being a Christian. I can be analytical and introspective to my heart’s content, but one of my principles that I struggle to take to heart is that whatever we believe in, we will never know everything. Another moral I try to go by is that being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t question and think rationally, and being an atheist doesn’t mean you don’t treat others with respect and compassion.

I was struggling to think of a topic this week, and I realise that I haven’t managed to blog on the same day each week like I was intending. See, I told you I’m not perfect! In my defence, I spent most of Monday being patient with Marks and Spencers regarding the presents I had ordered, packing and arriving home to a piece of cake and two adoring cats. I’ve been fairly idle in the coursework department, but have put up and decorated two Christmas trees and played my violin in Carillon Court with my now-distant desk partner Katy*.

Whilst remembering to show both rationality and compassion…let the festivities begin!

*distant in that we both now live close to our respective universities