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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Why on earth would anyone marry a man with Aspergers?!

I suppose I got into a relationship with Ethan for two main reasons 1) he grounded me and looked after me and was reliable and strong at a time when I didn't otherwise have those things in my life and 2) I felt I could help him in the areas where he obviously struggled.

It was clear to me quite early on that Ethan had trouble connecting with other people, engaging socially and understanding social situations and cues. But I wasn’t aware of Ethan’s Aspergers until much, much later by which time we were married and had children. The relationship was difficult. We were so different. He frustrated and embarrassed me frequently. I remember being  almost as struck with anxiety as he was before a night out, nervously hoping that this night he would make the effort , that he’d speak to people, that he wouldn’t behave like a miserable git that no-one wanted to be around! I think that was one of the biggest issues early on: that his behaviour and the lack of effort he made with people just made him appear miserable and rude. And why would I want to be with someone like that? We spent a lot of time arguing about how he came across at social occasions and how I’d feel let down by him. Looking back, it must have been hugely frustrating and lonely for him – seeing me breezing about easily chatting to everyone on a night out and knowing that the fact he couldn’t do this – that he could barely hear people and didn’t know how to talk to them – would result in me being angry and upset with him later and there was nothing he could do about it. But at the time, it was inconceivable to me that someone couldn’t learn how to speak to other people and when my efforts at tutoring him in the art of sociability didn’t work, I just saw it as him choosing to be inherently rude and unsociable. A few times we nearly split up – I called off our first engagement. But somehow we stayed together. I think I saw myself as being the person who could change him, who could transform his life and outlook. I’ve always been a sucker for people that ‘need’ me! The other, more positive, factor though is that his unique blend of traits bought with it some characteristics that I found really attractive. In one sense he was hard work but in another, he was really easy. He didn’t want to go out all the time, he wasn’t out with his mates neglecting me in the evenings, he didn’t go to football all day on Saturdays (since then, I’ve realised that he has simply replaced football/sport with his computer!), he was content with me – just me. And being with him was easy – he didn’t talk a lot, I didn’t have to make the effort with him all the time, I could be grumpy and monosyllabic and he didn’t mind. He was always there, always faithful and loyal, always on my side and very rarely complained about any aspect of me – the fact that he was so quiet and simple and stable anchored my flitting, emotional, busy, complicated life. Still today, I am grateful for his simplistic outlook, his unswerving support of me and his plodding faithfulness.

I suppose I thought the big things – his loyalty, his dedication, his hard work, his love for me, his commitment – were worth more than him being able to socialise or being positive. I grew to need him, however much he infuriated me. 

Our relationship and subsequent marriage has never been easy. In the early years I often fantasised about divorce. I felt lonely often, despite being surrounded by friends, and was regularly frustrated, hurt, angry and disappointed by him and his reactions to situations. I spent years trying to artificially carve out friendships for him which never amounted to anything. I suppose I felt I needed my decision to be with Ethan endorsed by the fact that other people wanted to be with him too. The fact he had no real friends was a constant reminder to me that he was just not a likeable person, which just reinforced my doubts as to why I was with him.
Since Ethan has been diagnosed with Aspergers though and I’ve learnt about and understood the syndrome, life together has got better; good even. I no longer try to turn him into something he can’t be which means we’re both less frustrated. We’ve, almost without realising it, made concessions and compromises in our lives that make space for the other person and their needs and, I must credit Ethan here, he has changed. I couldn’t see it while it was happening – it wasn’t happening quickly enough or in the right direction but, looking back to our first years of marriage, he is so much more sociable. He’s learnt tactics for monitoring his behaviour and, although it’ll never come naturally, he’s learning to adapt to circumstances and other people’s needs. He’s even made some friends!

It’s been a rocky, sometimes painful road. But I’ve learnt so much about myself and discovered that I’m married to a unique, complex, incredibly loyal and faithful man who never gives up on us despite the fact that life and relationships are so hard for him. I guess any marriage – any joining together of two totally separate individuals with different hopes, dreams and personalities – is going to be hard. In the end I think it boils down to whether the two of you are prepared to make it work, however much that demands of you. We both needed to be willing to change – not the essence of who we were but how we behaved and reacted, and we both needed to be willing to have our views, perceptions and expectations of life fine-tuned by the other. 

As I write this, Ethan is making me a bacon sandwich before heading off to work for ten hours in the gloom and rain of the day. And he knows, as he does that, that I’m writing this blog post about how flipin’ difficult he is! He is, at heart, a kind and loving man. I’m a lucky woman.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Gaining his perspective

I’m currently writing, with Ethan, a chapter for an e-book on what it’s like (for both people) to live within an AS/NT partnership. Our topic is family occasions and the idea is that I’ll write about some family occasions that I’ve experienced with Ethan and then Ethan will give his take on the same situations. 
The process of comparing our different views to the same events is enlightening!
Without giving too much away, I talk about a family Christmas at my sister’s house when about thirty people were having a jolly old time: and two weren't. Ethan spent the evening switching between looking vacant and detached or disapproving and contemptuous. Sometimes he managed to roll out all four looks simultaneously. I was miserable because it was yet another social gathering in which Ethan was being rude, disengaged and downright unpleasant. And I felt embarrassed, frustrated, upset and angry at him. I just wanted us both to be able to relax and have a nice time. I distinctly remember looking past the faces of a roomful of laughing, happy, sociable people during a game of chubby bunnies and seeing Ethan glaring at the scene unfolding before him with a look somewhere between confusion and disgust, and my heart genuinely sinking into the pit of my stomach. In my head (as it had been many times before and has been since) that was the end for us.
When Ethan showed me yesterday what he’d written about the same occasion, I realised that I’d never actually asked him before to explain to me what was going on inside his head at the time. Ethan talks about the noise, about trying his hardest to engage and be sociable but having to almost instantly give up on conversation with people as the surrounding noise of people, music, kids shouting and other conversations, made it impossible for him to hear what a person was saying to him. He talks about how he was noticing the dog and cats and seeing little fingers touching food on the buffet table – wondering about the cleanliness of the house and whether, prior to us arriving, the dog and cats had been sniffing around the food too. He was thinking about how bright the room was and the poor quality of the lightbulbs. Then, during the playing of Chubby Bunnies (a custom he’d never heard of, let alone encountered) he was genuinely confused. To him, this wasn’t a game. It was gluttony. There was no point to it, nothing fun about it, no challenge to it; just another opportunity for people – even children – to stuff their faces with more unhealthy food. Thus began an internal scrutiny of the parents in the room for letting their children gorge themselves on so much sugar. I don’t know what he must have thought when I had a go – who did he have to blame for that?!
I realise that all of this doesn’t make for a very fun person spec. But it does explain where he was coming from. His brain simply could not by-pass the practical aspects of what he was seeing: how is stuffing yourself with marshmallows until they drop out of your mouth fun? Sensually, he was over-stimulated, anxious and completely out of his comfort zone: he was drowning.
My reaction was to glare at him, to mutter quietly to him about what a miserable, awful person he was, to tell him how he had ruined the evening for me and probably for everyone else. Psychologically, instead of throwing him a rope, I pushed him further under.
Things are a lot better these days. We’ve had a diagnosis for one – so a whole new level of understanding has opened up to us both. And we’ve learnt to cope better with social situations. It’s required us both to adapt – Ethan more than me – and to make some changes to what might be our default settings. And we’ve adopted some techniques and compromises to make life easier.
We’re still together so we must be getting better at understanding each other’s worlds. Writing the chapter for this e-book is just another part of the journey.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

It's not my fault!

Definitely near the top of my list of most annoying traits of a spouse with Aspergers Syndrome is his need to find someone to blame, outside of himself, for everything that goes wrong.

In Ethan’s case, the trait expands to everyone in his immediate family. But far from being endearing or protective or loyal, it’s just silly and annoying – as if we are an extension of him and nothing that is any part of him can ever be to blame for anything.

Last week, when I was re-telling how Oliver had been told off for swinging on the goal post at football training, his defensive response was ‘He was probably bored.’ When I pointed out that this coach gives up every Saturday morning to ‘train’ a distracted bunch of four and five year olds for very little money often in the pouring rain and does an amazing job of it and that perhaps we should be grateful rather than critical (and that no-one else was swinging on the goal posts), he changed his stance to ‘I didn’t mean that, I meant Oliver was probably just hanging around doing nothing’ ARGH.THAT MEANS THE SAME THING - JUST IN DIFFERENT WORDS!!! I gave up.

The same week, Ethan took a cheque to work. It had been given to us by the school PTA to reimburse us for something and had been sitting around on the kitchen side for weeks. Instead of cashing it, Ethan lost it. Rather than saying sorry, he snapped at me: ‘Why are they giving us cheques? No one does cheques any more. Why couldn’t they just do a bank transfer like everyone else?’ Frustrated that he’d lost the cheque and unable to handle the concept of it being his fault, his blame of the school for giving him a cheque in the first place was almost caricature-style funny. Except it wasn’t, because I’m living with this every day and it’s frustrating and unattractive and depressing. Next he told me that I’d have to tell the school we needed a new cheque. Erm, no because 1) you lost it, not me and 2) it’s ‘our’ mistake not theirs (I’m even willing to share the blame when it’s not directly my fault!). Asking them to write us another cheque which then has to be countersigned by two people because we’ve lost the first one is just embarrassing. 

On the plus side, he’s just made me an Ovaltine – even though he knows I’m writing a blog post moaning about him. And the other night when I couldn’t sleep, he got up with me at 2am hugged me, made me (another) drink and stroked my hair, even though he had to be up at 6am for work. He’s very loyal and faithful – but I wish it wasn’t at the expense of him being willing to admit that we, him included, get things wrong sometimes and it’s no-one’s fault but ours.  

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Still here...still muddling!

So just sitting in the (all too rare) summer sunshine at Lightwater valley theme park with my youngest while Ethan takes the older two on some underground dinosaur monstrosity - and finally have a few minutes to write a blog post!
For those of you who have been concerned, I'm not languishing in a dreary cell having murdered my Aspergers husband, not am I killed by him for nagging & criticising once too often! I've just found myself suddenly indescribably busy with three big work contracts happening at once & three kids off for the summer. Plus an AS husband taking up far more energy than an average relationship might. Something had had to give - and it couldn't be my family or the work I'm getting paid for...Rest assured we (my AS husband & I) are still muddling through.
Just this morning as we entered the theme park, he told our youngest son to go & push over a poor unsuspecting student looking to earn some money over the summer by hanging around in a giant Angry bird costume...and our son did. A colleague had to come over to stop the 'angry bird' from actually toppling over & to tell our son, who was merely obeying his father's orders, not to push! When questioned as to why Ethan thought it a good idea to tell Oliver to go & whack a man dressed in a costume, he genuinely didn't know why he'd said it. I, baffled by his strange brain, pushed & pushed as to how he couldn't know why he said it & he, frustrated & embarrassed by his strange brain, got irritated by my pushing. What I have learnt, most of the time, since starting my blog, is when to stop pushing & to just accept that he does weird things sometimes, often almost involuntarily & that me telling him how odd/rude/unpleasant he is, just makes things worse. So I stopped pushing for an explanation, accepted his mumbled apology & the day was salvaged.
But, like I say, we're still muddling through...and always will be, like everyone if we're honest, AS or not.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Aspergers and partying at home!

Beginning to regret having my 40th birthday party at home.

Ethan is single-handedly turning our back room into a nightclub with an excess of lights, lasers and twinkly stars all over the place.

And he's just announced that he's going to put a padlock and hazard tape over our trampoline to stop drunken revelers from bouncing on it. Feel like a teenager about to have a party with my well-meaning but embarrassingly uptight dad.

Also, unless he cheers up, it's going to be like hosting a party with Victor Meldrew. He's been totally miserable to live with the last few days. Shouting at the kids, speaking aggressively to me over little things like whether the hamster needs to go in his exercise ball and managing to turn even positive, kind happenings (my sister offered to have the kids for us so we can pack for holiday) into something negative ('We both need to be packing that day. You can't go driving the kids over to Rotherham'). In actual fact, I think the issue is over his mid-life-crisis of a car that he doesn't want me to drive which I would need to drive if I was to take the kids to Rotherham so that he could be packing our family car with the camping stuff. The car in question is the ridiculous purchase that almost ruined us that I never agreed with him buying, that we don't all fit in, that we can't afford and that now, I've discovered, I'm not even allowed to drive!

Happy birthday me!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Aspergers and having two of everything!

Our house is full of money...

We have change everywhere – in pretty much every drawer of the house and in both cars. It can’t be touched or, heaven forbid, used. It’s our back-up money which, it seems, is destined to a life of sitting idly in a drawer doing nothing. Knowing it’s there – that each drawer in the house is fully stocked with loose change, somehow brings security for Ethan. Personally, I’d feel more secure if we gathered all of this change up and used it to pay off at least some of our overdraft. 

Still, that’s the way it is and, I must admit, the emergency stash of pound coins in the car have come in useful more than once (even if I do get told off by Ethan for actually using the money!) 

What’s rather more frustrating is his habit of having to have two of everything...

A toothbrush in both bathrooms (plus a spare in the bathroom drawer), deodorant in both bathrooms, his own special towels in each bathroom, two pairs of sunglasses – one for each car, boxes of tissues everywhere (in the car, on the kitchen side, in the front room, on the hall table, on his bedside table, in the bathroom), two cars, two microwaves, two sheds...

You get the idea. It’s a small matter but why he can’t pick his toothbrush up from one bathroom and take it into the other is beyond me, same goes for his sunglasses. He lost a pair recently. We had a couple of days of frustrated, moodiness when he couldn’t find them. I knew, from previous experience, that they would turn up. And they did – but not before he, unable to live in the knowledge that he only had one locatable pair of sunglasses, that things weren’t right – bought a new pair. The next day I found his old pair, without even looking. That pair has now become his ‘house sunglasses’...for those days when the sun coming through the windows in our north facing house is just too bright!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Aspergers and negative reactions

A short (and not that sweet) entry this week but am sure that many of you will relate...
Sometimes (often) it's the little but constant things that are the most annoying and disheartening to deal with.
Yesterday, over dinner, I was telling Ethan about the activities that Ava was going to be doing on her school residential in a couple of weeks. The conversation went something like this:
Me (cheerily): The itinerary sounds really full on. They get them up at 7am, activities start at 8.30am and go right through until 9pm at night. They're doing abseiling, canoeing, raft-making, climbing, caving, obstacle courses, team-building...
Ethan (disdainfully): I hope they've got some good supervision.
And that was the end of that conversation. It was so irritating that, out of all the ways he could have responded -said how good it sounded, what a great time she'd have, even just an 'oh wow' - that he said something negative and scathing. It's like his mind is auto-set to respond in the most negative way possible to every piece of  information. I understood his point - they would need good supervision with that many kids doing those kinds of activities and it was a valid concern. But maybe mention that after you've said how good it sounds or, if you're going to take that as your initial approach, say it in a half-jokey 'wow, it's gonna be crazy' kind of a way. There was none of that with Ethan, just negativity. And the effect on me was instant deflation.

I finished my food, popped my plate in the dishwasher and went upstairs to put the kids to bed, feeling weary.